What would it take to get everyone to bring their own mug to Colorado Coffee? How about bringing their own bowl to Benjamin’s? Would the prospect of a discount get people to remember their mug from home? What would need to be done to make bringing your own reusable containers the new norm? These are the questions that the students behind Ditch Disposables have been trying to answer since the program began last year.
“It’s like taking a Nalgene to class … no one ever buys bottled water anymore,” said Marissa Oves, Colorado College Student Government Association Junior Representative. Oves recently joined Ditch Disposables alongside members of the sustainability council in their efforts to engineer a cultural shift, beginning with a trial of a ‘disposable tax’ during earth week-the first week of Block 8-and continuing during next year’s New Student Orientation.
During NSO, the Ditch Disposables team plans on educating new students, NSO leaders, First Year Experience mentors, and Resident Advisors about the campaign to cut down waste and start a cultural change by providing all of them with some reusable dishware. “It’s hard to rewire people’s brains,” said Oves. “But if we start the year off right, if we really nail this in and make it a priority, we can change Colorado College’s sustainability ethic and culture.”
Tyler Dexter, the operation manager for Bon Appétit, said that Bon Appétit has offered the discount for bringing your own reusable mug since in 2009, but there has never been a critical mass of students taking advantage of the discount. Danny Rodriguez, one of the Office of Sustainability’s interns, explained that they are planning on piloting a program to reverse this discount, framing it as an added cost to those who don’t bring their own mug instead of a discount for those who do.
Rodriguez, Oves, and many others on campus are committed to making the push to change the culture at CC. In addition to outreach during NSO, they also plan on increasing the visibility of the campaign on social media and in the dining halls where it is meant to make an impact.
“Disposables by nature are part of American culture,” said Austin Kumm, assistant general manager of Bon Appétit at CC. “It’s a matter of changing the overall campus culture by not having disposables at all.” Kumm is supportive of the student groups who are hoping to change the norm, and he likened the campaign to similar successful campaigns to cut down on disposable plastic bag usage in other parts of the country.
Benjamin Swift, a volunteer with the Office of Sustainability who is working on Ditch Disposables, is optimistic about the potential of the campaign. “With a small campus like this, there is a definite possibility that we can move in the direction of change,” he said.
Rodriguez envisions a campus culture of accountability and awareness, imagining the ethos around reusables being: “It is the normal thing to bring a reusable, and if you don’t, that’s not cool.”
Additionally, Kumm sees a time when perhaps we won’t even remember what the norm once was: “If you start with the freshmen, in four years, you’ll have people graduating that’ll say, ‘What’s a disposable?’” Kumm said.
Whether these hopes become actualized rests not in the hands of the dreamers, as they will be lost to graduation in a few years, but in the culture; for if a change is affected in the culture, it can persist indefinitely.