The University of Connecticut has generally done a good job at being environmentally conscious. From their decision to switch to paper straws to the entire power generation complex of the Cogen plant, UConn has shown its dedication to the environment. In continuing with this theme, the Editorial Board proposes a common-sense step that reduces both waste and confusion in the dining hall system, has been shown to be an effective move across other colleges and is season-appropriate, to boot!
This idea is to move the utensils used in dining halls and cafés across campus to a takeout model. Rather than fuss over utensils and bags and boxes, UConn Dining Services should consider using plastic containers that students are allowed to and actively encouraged to bring out with them.
While this does require a higher trust model and an upfront cost, this move would be cost-effective in the long run and can be automated much more than the current system. Usually, this works by having students check out the containers, using it as a sort of deposit and returning them at specially-made receptacles. For those who have trouble imagining this, it is similar in process to checking out library books. There are also models if this is not preferred.
In a way, this cuts down on much of the clutter with the current system. Rather than have so many single-use items (from the paper bags and wraps of Grab-n-Go to the containers at the Union), there can be a standardized system that students can draw from. In addition, these receptacles lend themselves naturally to automation, with the containers easily able to be put back once collected.
This idea has been shown to work in colleges like Boston College, Ivy Leagues, and the University of California system. It also has been put into practice at hospitals and other places. This is a trustable system. In addition, the idea is so popular that there are companies looking to implement exactly this, meaning that little legwork is required by the university itself.
Finally, this would not only be a more sustainable system, but it would also be appreciated by students. When the weather is nice, many don’t want to be confined to the dining halls to eat. It’s fun to have picnics and be out in the sun. It can even cut down on overcrowding at the busiest dining halls. While this isn’t the case for much of the school year in Connecticut, it is a legitimate upside.
Overall, this seems like a really common sense move. While the reusable takeaway model would take a serious investment to implement well, all signs point to it being worth it.