2009 Environmental Survey: Paler shade of green

FoodService Director's first Environmental Study find out how operators are tackling sustainability.

Compostable disposables: Once the compost program is up and running, the campus’s earlier switch to biodegradable and compostable disposables will start having an effect on the college’s waste diversion rates. Dining Services began the switch in the fall of 2006.

“We basically had a meeting with our paper supplier and we asked them to take a look at all the items that we buy from them and asked them to find sustainable alternatives,” Plascencia says. “Thankfully, they came up with a lot of products that are compostable. We now use fiberboard plates and hinged containers, and we recently switched to sugar cane utensils from potato-based since they tend to hold better. By total purchases, 45 cents of every dollar goes to these products. When we first switched, the costs were projected to increase by about $16,000 over purchases of $320,000, so it was good that our housing director was OK with that knowing it was the right thing to do. But we’re actually spending more than that now because we opened new facilities.”

Because Riverside lacked a compostable program, the containers have been going directly to the landfill. Plascencia says the department is planning to add the disposable containers to the compost pile once the Athens program is in place.

“Once our composting program gets going, the food waste and these containers can be composted together,” Plascencia says. “In the residential dining facilities, we usually use china and glassware, but occasionally we’ll use paper products for special events. In the retail locations, it’s more difficult because the students don’t stay and eat in those locations so the ultimate goal is to have the collection containers all over campus.”

Taking to trayless: Another important step in achieving the waste diversion goals was trayless dining, which the university fully implemented at the beginning of the current school year.

“We eliminated trays starting last summer during conferences to see how students would react,” Plascencia says. “The only complaints we heard were from returning students and staff. So we decided to go completely trayless in the fall and we’ve received no complaints. In 2003 we measured the food waste for one week at our two residential dining halls and found that students were throwing away about 1,000 pounds per day at both locations. After going trayless, the daily average for each dining hall was 800 pounds.”

The department has also reduced waste by moving the napkin dispensers to each table, which tends to make the students take fewer napkins.

“When we had them with the trays, they’d grab up to seven and then they’d use four and the rest would end up in the trash,” Plascencia says. “Now that the napkins are at the tables, the students are only using the two or three that they need.”

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The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

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