As a freshman with no car, no money and no idea how to navigate Downtown Binghamton, dining hall hopping has become a frequent activity for my friends and I. Living in Newing College, I have the pleasure of mingling with the Dickinson Community crowd and even some College-in-the-Woods inhabitants on occasion. I have definitely warmed up to Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4). I’m finally remembering to wear gloves while making a sandwich, to not fill up a hot chocolate cup with soda and, of course, to separate the berries from the other salad bar items. But alas, I still find myself longing for something more. C4 still doesn’t feel like my good old kitchen at home. Part of that could be attributed to C4’s use of paper plates and plastic utensils, but to know for sure, I decided to inspect the layouts of the other dining halls and see how I felt.
Unfortunately, it was a rainy day when a few friends and I decided to trek along to Hinman College, but stepping foot into the newly renovated dining hall definitely lifted our spirits. I was browsing the endless selections — do I want wings, mashed potatoes or maybe a salad that will turn out to be $8 because I got carried away with the croutons? After grabbing a plate and scanning my rather tragic Binghamton University ID — let’s just say upon seeing the headshot, my mother said she’d give me $20 to replace it — I headed over to get the essentials. This includes three to five napkins, copious amounts of hot sauce and, of course, utensils.
When I tell you I was taken aback upon seeing actual, metal cutlery — my mind was transported to cooking at home with items that you actually have to put in the dishwasher. Let’s start with the paper plate situation. I appreciate the use of paper instead of its detrimental alternative, plastic, but paper isn’t as advanced as we may think. Paper is only effectively recyclable when free of any food residue. Between the balsamic-roasted vegetables and the barbecue grilled chicken, even if one consumes every bite, there will still be some leftover sauce or crumbs on the plate. Therefore, the energy and fuel it takes to attempt to recycle these oil- and water-saturated plates just go to waste. But hey, at least there is some attempt in the first place. The same doesn’t go for the plastic utensils. In the United States, 40 billion single-use plastic utensils are thrown away every year. This statistic can’t be easily blown off when the metal alternative is readily available at the fingertips of BU dining halls. I am left wondering — why is C4 lacking the classier, more environmentally conscious option? Clearly, they have the supplies, considering you can see stacks of plates lining the skinny hallway connecting the separate dining sections. Yes, they are a bit dusty, but nothing a good dishwasher dash couldn’t fix. And don’t even get me started on the durability of these utensils.
At first, I thought, “Maybe I am just an aggressive eater who happens to break a prong or two on the grilled chicken from Simple Servings.” But then I remembered my dear friend having his spoon split in half after his first bite of Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough ice cream. Never mind the calories and the potential brain freeze — he could have seriously hurt himself on his now do-it-yourself plastic spork. I digress.
To further the investigation, I made the treacherous hike up to Appalachian Collegiate Center the next day. While making the journey, I thought about two things: one, this is a much nicer view than the bushes at C4, and two, am I really this out of shape? Just like my routine at Hinman Dining Center, I definitely browsed my options and evaluated my willingness to wait for 10 minutes for three pierogis. And as I approached the condiments and cutlery, I was once again blown away at the endless fields of metal utensils.
So, what can C4 do to step up its cutlery game? It’s likely that the use of plastic silverware is due to a lack of resources, especially employees who can run the dishwashing conveyor belt. One easy fix is the students themselves. I hear endless cries from students looking for on-campus jobs that are close by and can fit their busy school schedule. If BU were to hire more part-time student employees at minimum wage for the dishwashing section of the dining hall, it could reduce the environmental impact of plastic cutlery while providing job opportunities for students who are saving for tuition. Not only that, but it would give a chance for the C4 staff to connect with and teach the students of BU about time management and working in a professional environment. There are so many benefits to working as a college student, so the whole concept would be a win-win.
Regardless of whether you are a College-in-the-Woods connoisseur or an Appalachian Collegiate Center attendee, we should all be mindful of our nonreusable consumption. And if you don’t care about it, then let me just remind you that C4 taxes you for the plates, and that’s why your meal plan is diminishing before your eyes.
Carol Dineen is a freshman majoring in chemistry.