Greenhouse working with Dining Services to implement plan next semester

Wyatt Smith

News Editor

The student group Greenhouse is working with Wooster’s Dining Services to implement a reusable to-go box program next semester.

“The change has not yet been approved,” clarified Chuck Wagers, director of Campus Dining and Conference Services, “although the motivation for change is sensible. … There needs to be education and buy-in from the student population and administration before the decision is made to implement this new system.”

Under the new system, students will receive a token which can be exchanged for a plastic to-go box when entering dining halls. Specialized vending machines will trade a dirty to-go box for another token.

Unlike the current disposable boxes, the reusable containers will have multiple sections to keep food separate, although they will not come with a detached cup. The new boxes will likely be larger than the present ones.

If students lose their token or to-go box, they must pay a fee to receive a new token.

To make the plan financially viable, the reusable boxes would completely replace their disposable counterparts. If prices do not change, the program will pay for itself in three years.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Caroline Kamen ’16, one of the students who first proposed the idea, “because it’s another step towards having a sustainable future and towards people consciously thinking about what they’ve used in the past and how it’s wasteful.”

The College currently goes through over 100,000 disposable boxes annually.

“Ideally, these containers would go to our compost facility once used,” said Wagers. “In reality, most to-go containers end up in a trash can instead of a compost container. Either way, our current to-go containers are disposable and create waste, both physical waste and financial waste.”

“I’m always looking to eliminate things that are building up in our waste stream,” said Sb Loder, the College’s sustainability coordinator. “We should just find ways around them.”

A relatively new phenomenon, reusable to-go boxes are already available at a handful of colleges, including Oberlin College, Washington & Jefferson College, Boston University and Williams College.

Wooster’s move toward reusable to-go containers started over a year ago, when Kamen and Lauren Swank ’16 researched the idea for Greenhouse, Wooster’s largest environmental student group. Working with Loder, the two students pitched their idea to Dining Services in the fall of 2012.

Due to peculiarities in Ohio’s health code, Kamen and Swank’s plan had to be approved by the state government, a process that took from early 2013 until last June.

In the fall of 2013, Loder, Greenhouse and Dining Services began working on the specifics, such as when to implement the switch as well as the number and location of the vending machines. This past fall also saw the addition of Annette Hilton ’17 to the cause, who replaced Swank after she transferred to a different school.

The plan’s designers hope to introduce the reusable containers at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, both to ease the transition and to properly incorporate the start-up cost in Dining Service’s budget.

Kamen, Hilton and Loder are presently working to inform the campus about the switch. Greenhouse hopes to table in Lowry and hold public meetings to address student questions and concerns.