Foam cups, trays could soon be history

As buzz words like “green” and “sustainability” continue to gain popularity and momentum among universities nationwide, St. Thomas student clubs and campus services will strive to make a more environmentally conscious campus this year.

“I think it is especially important at St. Thomas because it is such a progressive movement,” said sophomore Green Team co-coordinator Abby Yeomans. “I think it is important to progress with all the other universities right now. It’s kind of [the] thing to ‘go green.’”

The Green Team, a student club designed to raise environmental awareness within the St. Thomas community both on and off-campus, is one of several Tommie clubs that will join together to further educate students about the importance of sustainability.

“I think universities are supposed to be models for the community,” said senior Megan Sheridan, co-leader of the Green Team. “This is where we are supposed to push the envelope and push the future generation to make change.”

Encouraging students in a campus community to adopt more environmentally conscious practices is the first obstacle for both the student organizations and food services.

On a daily basis, Gayle Lamb, cash operations manager for dining services, sees the kind of carelessness students have for recycling, even if the containers are only a few feet from the trash.

“If you come to the Grill and just see what’s being thrown away, there are a lot of things in the trash that could be in the recycle containers,” Lamb said. “It always comes down to education of the person and the people using it. It comes down to their awareness and how much they personally want to participate in the program.”

Sheridan said clubs such as the Green Team need to be careful not to shame people for not recycling.

“I think making people want to change their habits doesn’t come from fear,” Sheridan said. “The key to driving change is demonstrating the problem and not being shy about it, then turning around and having action steps today to make that better.”

When it comes to becoming a sustainable campus, food services is in the spotlight for coming up with new ways to deal with waste. The amount of food waste, water waste and garbage that goes along with running student dining has already sparked new ideas in staying ‘green.’

Possibility of eliminating Styrofoam

One initiative still in progress is to eliminate the Styrofoam drinking cups from all student dining areas – like the Grill and Scooter’s – and replace them with a biodegradable cup.

There also may be an opportunity to install indoor composting equipment in the new student center, Lamb said.

“Hopefully we are going to be able to design our menu and the products that we use for single service use made out of biodegradable materials,” she said. “If we have the proper piece of equipment it leaves us with minimal residue at the end.”

Though there are many big plans for new sustainable initiatives, Sheridan said it is about more than just the big picture.

“There are all of these big issues to be tackled, but we really do need to focus on the small things to get there,” she said. “If we can’t have success along the way then nothing is really changing.”

There are some small changes that have begun in food services. In the Grill, for example, students can bring in their own cup or thermos and get a 25-cent discount on coffee. In the C-Store, students are encouraged to use the purple St. Thomas cloth bags to carry items back to their dorm.

Skip the tray, save the planet

One of the most talked about and successful sustainability initiatives taking place on universities is eliminating trays in student dining areas.

“We would certainly like to pursue, especially in the student dining room, to go without trays,” Lamb said.

While many of the other metro universities such as the University of Minnesota, Hamline University, and Augsburg College have all adopted trayless student dining, St. Thomas has opted to ease into the practice by making every Tuesday, “Trayless Tuesday.”

“I think it’s a good idea because it forces people to think about how much food they’re getting,” Sheridan said. “It will in the end produce less food waste and save a lot of water.”

Last September, the Star Tribune reported that after Hamline University went trayless, the school saw a significant decline in the amount of food waste as well as meal costs. Before the university switched to trayless, Hamline was producing two 32-gallon waste containers per day. Once trayless, it fell to only one.

Likewise, the College of Saint Benedict’s dining service reported that after the first day of going trayless it saved more than 100 pounds of wasted food on breakfast meals alone.

St. Thomas has shown that it can consciously recycle in a big way. Last year, St. Thomas participated in Recyclemania, a nationwide competition to see what university could recycle the most. St. Thomas ranked second among Minnesota schools with 106,083 total pounds recycled in the 10-week period.

St. Thomas Recyclemania 2008 by the numbers:

In the 10-week competition St. Thomas finished 62nd out of more than 550 schools nationwide. As for other stats, St. Thomas…

  • Finished with an overall cumulative recycling rate of about 32 percent.
  • Placed second in Minnesota, after being edged out by Gustavus Adolphus College. Gustavus finished with a cumulative rate of 36.64.
  • Finished first in Minnesota in the category of amount of municipal solid waste per person with 31.57 pounds per person.

For more information, check out the top 10 easiest ways to be sustainable.

Matt Linden can be reached at

7 Replies to “Foam cups, trays could soon be history”

  1. I for one disagree with the University’s decision to eliminate trays on Tuesdays, and the plan to eventually phase them out altogether. Trays are convenient in that they allow you to carry multiple items of delicious and tasty treats in addition to cool refreshing beverages, such as Cherry Pepsi or Raspberry Lemonade. I’m in a hurry a lot when I eat in the caf, as I have a class at 12.15 When I have to make separate trips for my juicy, delicious hamburger, accompanied by piping hot French-Fries, my 4 “tall” glasses of perfectly chilled 2% milk, a salad with only the choicest of vegetables, and perhaps some crunchy yet cheesy nachos, it takes quite a bit of time, considering that there are often lines with other of my fellow academic Class-Mates waiting their turn to enjoy a sumptuous feast. So what’s my point? Well I am all in favor of trying to make the world a better place, but should not we be attempting to do it on a larger scale yet in a less intrusive manner? Plus, is our motivation behind this really the correct one, or is it simply because the green movement is a cool fad.

    “I think it is especially important at St. Thomas because it is such a progressive movement,” said sophomore Green Team co-coordinator Abby Yeomans. “I think it is important to progress with all the other universities right now. It’s kind of [the] thing to ‘go green.’”

  2. If St. Thomas wants to ‘go green’ maybe they shold stop selling all beverages in plastic bottles. This has been an issue for years as they around for an eternity.

  3. You know that it’s not the environment that St. Thomas cares about saving, it’s the $$$ that they will save on the water bill.

    Yeah, the biodegradable cups sounds nice and all, but one small detail Gayle Lamb left out was that she’s going to charge you an extra 40 cents to use the more expensive biodegradable cups – EXACTLY like what happened when they got rid of regular To-Go boxes in Scooters.

    I for one am okay with doing my share to help the environment, but why hit me in the pocketbook as well?

  4. I think we should only switch if the cost savings on doing fewer dishes will offset the cost of the biodegradable cups. If it does make up for it, why not completely switch to biodegradable plastics for everything including plates and silverware. There are many costs associated with the reusable dishes and trays, including paying workers to wash the dishes, hot water,paying for soap, etc. As long as they come up with some solution that will allow me to carry all of the food and drink that I want back to my table in one trip and they do not raise the costs, then I will be happy.

  5. I’ve heard that one of the main reasons for going “trayless” is to cut down on wasted food. I have heard numbers about how much food this would save, and it comes out to being a decently large amount of food which translates to a large amount of money. So with saving money on food and water are we as students going to see any of this $? absolutely not. Tuition and the prices of everything will still rise next year.

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