“It would seem like an anomaly to see a student carrying around a disposable plastic water bottle,” senior Zoë Holland proclaimed. “And yet, students carry around the Colorado Coffee disposable cups all the time, without any social stigma.”
Holland is the Waste Diversion Intern at the Office of Sustainability which means she works to cut waste around campus by collaborating with Bon Appétit, CC facilities staff, and CC students. I spoke with her and Austin Kumm, the Director of Operations at Bon Appétit, to get a better sense of what waste, recycling, and compost looks like at CC. Where are we hitting the mark? Where are we falling short?
The effort to decrease CC’s waste boils down to a change in campus culture. While we students will sign any petition stuck in front of us, we fall short when it comes to changing daily habits, at least in the context of waste.
Bon Appétit has worked extensively to cut down on the garbage produced in dining locations, transitioning almost entirely to compostable containers at Benji’s—even the cellophane wrappers. What you can’t compost, you can recycle. Additionally, Bon Appétit creates very little food waste. What is leftover in Rastall breakfast and lunch gets donated to Colorado Springs Food Rescue. Moreover, Kumm stated: “Since I’ve been here, the amount of food given to CSFR has dramatically decreased.” This is because Bon Appétit employees are trained to plan in advance and repurpose leftover ingredients—if there’s a surplus of chicken breast, they might make chicken tortilla soup the next day. At places like The Preserve and Benji’s, the cooks are making batch orders, so what they don’t use is utilized at the next meal. “Our biggest challenge is the food that goes to the dish pit,” Kumm said. A majority of the food wasted on campus is not due to expiration dates or miscalculations by Bon Appétit’s cooks. Rather, it comes from students’ tendency to have eyes bigger than their stomachs.
One cannot claim to be an environmentalist and consistently waste food. Our attendance at protests and signing of petitions should be wed with individual actions that promote a healthy planet. These individual actions include taking only food that you can eat at Rastall and bringing your own utensils and coffee cups to other dining locations.
Recyclemania, which is an eight-week competition between various universities, is currently wrapping up. How did CC fare in comparison to other universities? Well, it may not be as clear-cut as it seems. CC ranked 30 out of 179 for waste diversion. Even more astounding, we came in third for “Food Organics.” This is exciting news and should not be ignored. However, in light of what Kumm told me, having a high volume of compost waste is not exactly heartening. After all, compost on our campus does not just include eggshells and banana peels. Rather, what we call “food organics” includes everything from cellophane sandwich wrappers and coffee cups to the untouched piece of pizza that you were too full to eat. All of these items could be avoided entirely if students were more proactive about their dining habits. When I asked Holland how many students actually bring their own cups to Colorado Coffee, she stated that Bon Appétit “does not have metrics,” but that it is “a very small percentage.”
I asked Holland if she ever gets annoyed when she hears news like this, as I often do. “At first I did get frustrated when people were not willing to make sacrifices in their day-to-day lives,” Holland admitted. “But you really have to part ways with that because, on the flipside, if systems are not set in place to make it easy on students, then it is on us to figure that out.” It is these exact systems that Holland and other interns at the Office of Sustainability are working to create. The waste diversion position is actually new this year. Before, waste-related issues were lumped into buildings and grounds; now the Office of Sustainability is “really making waste more of a priority,” according to Holland.
One way to encourage more BYOing (“bring-your-own-ing”) would be to create an “ecotainer” exchange program for coffee cups, similar to the green boxes used at Rastall. Unfortunately, there is both a financial and an environmental cost to this. On one hand, we would be decreasing the amount of one-use containers in our compost bins. However, there is always a tradeoff when you consider the water and soap, often high in chemicals, necessary to clean reusable mugs. Additionally, the cost falls on Bon Appétit when items go missing or break down from wear and tear. The last challenge associated with an ecotainer program is the sanitary component. Kumm explained that “The expectation is that containers will be clean and sanitary when they’re brought in.” Whether that’s always the case is debatable. However, in the same way that students could be more proactive about BYOing, Bon Appétit employees are notorious for not knowing the BYO policies. Various students that I have spoken with have been deterred from using their own plates because the people behind the counter at The Preserve are not receptive to the idea, and, on occasion, blatantly reject students.
Yes, more work can be done to improve our current BYO system, however, if anything is to change, it is that we, as a community, must create a BYO culture. Both Holland and Kumm drove this point home. At a time when the environment faces grave threats from our country’s most powerful leaders, it is important to take action where we can.