Every day hundreds of white Styrofoam containers are used and thrown out across campus with students taking meals to-go. Rial Tombes, the Sustainability Coordinator for Virginia Tech’s dining services, has introduced two new environmentally-friendly programs this year to help address some of the inefficiencies in the dining halls.
Tombes has received many complaints from students asking, “why are we using Styrofoam?” This led her to search for an alternative form of to-go containers.
This fall, the West End market began offering reuseable containers that students and faculty can check out, take home and bring back to the dining hall. It costs students $12 for a year-long membership to the program, which gives students access to three containers at any given time.
Once returned to West End, the staff will wash and clean them for another student to use. This was an improvement to the to-go program Owen’s dining hall implemented in 2011, which required students to wash and clean their containers before bringing them back. Tombes mentioned that the changes were designed to make it “a little bit easier” for students.
So far the containers are growing in popularity, but Rial hopes that the new additions to the program will be more inclusive by making the process easier on students. The ultimate goal is to create a compostable container, but Tombes feels that the program has taken a good step forward, and students will be open to the idea of more sustainable dining.
“I think it is a great idea. I had thought about it before I saw the advertisements in West End,” said Brandon Curley, a freshman. “I think it should be all over campus too because I see people with to-go containers all the time and Styrofoam is awful for the environment.”
The program still has a few initial deficiencies. Students have to keep track of three tags in order to have access to the containers. While Dining Services can replace one tag that is lost, if all three are lost, the student will have to purchase a new $12 plan.
But while the program is just getting started, Tombes says that it has “had a pretty good response. As of Friday of last week we had about 75 people that had bought into the program, which is a pretty good amount considering we haven’t done a ton of marketing. We’ve got some students and some staff that are in it.”
The other program Tombes introduced this year is Sit and Sort.
This was made to help students throw their trash away in the correct containers, as well as show students which elements of their meal are compostable. The program, on Dining Service’s website, helps students figure out how impactful their meal was depending on where they ate, what they ate and what utensils they used. While program is still developing a way to concisely tell students where to put their trash, Tombes hopes that the graphics will be able to move to other dining halls around campus soon.
These new programs are designed to help students conveniently and effectively make a difference in helping the environment.
“It is really about being conscious of how this campus impacts the broader community,” said Tombes. “The way we throw our trash away can really make a positive impact on our future and everybody else’s future.”