New to-go containers from the DC fill trash and recycling bins alike across campus, concerning Creation Restoration members and environmental activists.
By Rachel Blood
Trash bins across Bethel University’s campus overflow daily with styrofoam food containers as more students opt for Monson Dining Center’s new takeout option. While the new dining system may be COVID-friendly, how is it impacting the environment?
Senior Elise Ogden, student co-leader of campus group Creation Restoration, worries about waste output in any community, but is particularly invested in Bethel’s. Creation Restoration believes stewardship of the earth is a commandment of respect, as mentioned in Psalm 24:1. Ogden is disheartened by the piles of recyclables thrown into trash bins by students across campus.
The student club she leads started an initiative to unite all corners of campus to move toward reducing collective impact, and is offering a sustainability challenge this fall.
“As a facilities management worker, I placed four extra garbage cans in the BC during Welcome Week to ensure there wouldn’t be constant overflow,” said senior Creation Restoration co-leader Kylie Knutsen.
The DC’s to-go containers are made of styrofoam. Some styrofoam is made of expanded polystyrene foam, which clogs storm drains, litters beaches and streets, and harms animals. Polystyrene is Ogden’s largest environmental pet peeve. It also increases methane production in landfills, which has an ozone potency 20 times that of carbon dioxide.
The National Toxicology Program lists styrene, which leaches from polystyrene and takes over 500 years to break down in a landfill, as reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen. Even after breaking down, it becomes microplastic. The DC’s plastic utensils are not recyclable in Arden Hills and take up to 1000 years to degrade.
Bob Schuchardt, known to the student body as Sodexo Bob, holds a wildlife biology degree and manages dining services at Bethel.
This past summer, Sodexo worked as a team to determine how to open dining services with the looming presence of the coronavirus pandemic. Because dining center capacity was brought from 750 down to 250, a to-go program was a necessity.
Currently, Minnesota state guidelines don’t allow reusable containers, mugs or water bottles in the DC or 3900 Grill. Schuchardt said the current to-go system is a quick fix allowing dining services to stay open, but he hopes to increase capacity to 350 and introduce more environmentally friendly to-go options as soon as it’s safe.
Schuchardt noted that students are taking meals to-go often because they want to sit in groups outdoors.
Ogden would like to see an alternative to-go container implemented in the DC similar to what the Grill uses for disposables. The bottom of these containers is compostable while the top is recyclable, although many students do not take care in properly disposing of these bins.
The faculty sustainability board, a group of Bethel staff that meets regularly to discuss ways to increase campus sustainability, has made attempts to educate students on how to recycle the containers via staff volunteers stationed near trash bins in the BC. However, it is ultimately up to our community members to be mindful about their habits and actions. Some containers cannot be recycled despite having a recycle symbol.
Ogden promotes reusable containers over compostable or recyclable, since reusables are cheaper and created for convenience. Ogden says it’s easy to develop habits that are just as convenient and cheap while reducing waste, but that “humanity is naturally resistant to change.”
Schuchardt said that it is up to the university whether a to-go option will remain available when state guidelines are lifted. Likely, he said, Bethel will revert to in-center dining in an effort to strengthen community.
Sodexo is attempting to get better material for the environment than styrofoam, but it is very difficult.
“We are in a period of uncertainty right now, and what we want to do is keep Bethel open,” Schuchardt said. “I think that’s the main thing.”