As it is my first year at the College of William and Mary, when someone told me I could take food to-go from the dining hall in a sustainable way, I was pretty excited. But when I actually got a to-go box, I was a lot less impressed. This year, Dining Services set the program up by having students buy a to-go container for five dollars to use and bring back in return for a clean container. Although the “to-go” idea seems to be a step in the right direction for the environment, it still needs a lot of work.
The first problem I have run into with the to-go box is carrying the container with me wherever I am going. It is one thing to carry the container around while it still has food I want to eat, but then toting around the dirty box after I have eaten and before I can find a time to bring it back is definitely cumbersome. Even more frustrating is that if I decide I want to get a quick to-go meal, it has to be planned out in advance, and I have to write on my hand or something to remember to make sure I have the box when I leave my room. For example, if I want to go to the Rec Center before dinner, then on my way home just swing by the Caf to grab something to-go, that means dragging the container to the Rec with me as I do my workout. That is definitely less than ideal.
Moving away from my personal convenience complaints and onto the actual sustainability concept behind it, I wonder, how truly sustainable the program actually is right now. According to Catherine Donatone from William and Mary Dining Services, in 2014 we threw out “4,000 disposable to-go containers” every week. It’s fantastic we aren’t anymore, but we are still throwing away the cups and utensils.
I also wonder if Dining Services got enough of the reusable boxes before the change. In theory, if each student is essentially purchasing one of these boxes, the dining hall would have to have at least approximately 8,500 containers to supply all the undergraduate and graduate students with a to-go box — and that is not even including the amount they’d need to have enough clean ones to exchange back as well. With this in mind, I do not see why they have to give me back a clean container the exact same time I bring back the dirty one if I do not plan to eat out right then. In that case, instead of all the containers staying in circulation, it is going to simply take up room in my kitchen.
I am proud of our school for trying to reduce waste, but there is still plenty to improve on in the program. Every new program is going to take time to work out the kinks and it is clear there are many things that need to be done to make the to-go box program more convenient for students.
It’s a good plan in theory, but the reality of it needs to be sorted out, and that unfortunately seems to be taking more time than desired from students.
Email Johanna Flashman at firstname.lastname@example.org.