Over the last several weeks, the eco-friendly paper to-go containers that retail dining establishments used to package food have been replaced with single-use plastic ones.
The change, which is an effort by Sodexo and the Student Culinary Council (SCC) to offset a rise in meal plan costs as a result of a minimum wage increase and the rising price of raw materials, has been met with concerns about environmental impact. Noah Tanenbaum, an undeclared freshman, said he would not mind the cost increase if it were for eco-friendly containers.
“I know they’re worse and they’re cheaper, which is obviously the reason they bought them,” Tanenbaum said. “Frankly, I wouldn’t care if I had to pay a little more on my tuition for the eco-friendly containers.”
But James Ruoff, resident district manager for Binghamton University Dining Services, wrote in an email that the plastic containers might not be as environmentally damaging as they seem. Before spring break, if a student wanted their meal to-go from the Marketplace or the dining halls, it would be given to them in a paper container touted as being eco-friendly. However, the only way in which these containers would avoid going to a landfill was if they were sent to be composted.
“There currently is not a mechanism to compost all these containers on our campus and most end up in the landfill,” Ruoff wrote in an email. “We were hopeful that new items may be recycled which would take them out of the waste stream.”
Despite this, many students think the plastic containers are a step in the wrong direction, including Jessica Dennehy, a junior majoring in biology.
“I think it’s awful, I think they suck — I didn’t realize they would still be giving out plastic containers,” Dennehy said. “I think it’s a bad decision.”
Bryan Obregon, a senior majoring in biology, said he sees a potential benefit of the plastic containers, but thinks the move goes against current trends to eliminate single-use plastics.
“I like that they are transparent,” Obregon said. “However, I don’t like them because I know they’re trying to get rid of plastic bags and plastic straws, so it’s annoying.”
Zach Pinto, chair of community outreach for the SCC and a junior double-majoring in mathematics and economics, said he recognizes students want environmentally friendly options, but they also want better containers than the paper ones.
“The plastic ones are technically worse for the environment,” Pinto said. “But even if we were to switch back to the paper ones, let’s say next semester, it’s not really solving the root of the problem, which is being sustainable and actually recycling things, because most of them do not get recycled.”
The SCC is proposing the University move to the OZZI system, which consists of vending machines that dispense reusable plastic to-go containers. With this system, each student is given a token to use in the machine. Once they put the token in, a container comes out. The student can then return the used container to get their token back or keep the container and wash it themselves.
YuHan Bae, co-president of the SCC and a sophomore majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, said he feels the opposition against plastic containers will help push the SCC toward getting the OZZI system for BU. According to Bae, the OZZI system has been talked about by the SCC and Sodexo for at least three years, and he hopes they can speed up its implementation.
“Switching to the plastic containers was not a quick decision, we’ve been discussing this even last semester going into this semester,” Bae said. “It was a very conscious decision within our e-board and with the administrators, but we see this as an opportunity for us. We take one step back and one leap forward.”