Duke Dining prohibits polystyrene

Duke University can tick another item off the sustainability checklist. At the start of the spring semester, polystyrene foam was banned from all Duke University dining locations. Sustainability is a high priority at the Durham, N.C., campus—the university has been composting for more than 11 years. In preparing the road map for future sustainability efforts, the university and the dining services team saw removal of polystyrene as “very doable,” according to Robert Coffey, director of dining services. In addition to university-operated outlets, locations that are managed by third-party vendors were also affected by the ban. “In this hybrid system,” Coffey explains, “you don’t have total control, you’re working through owners and managers. [But we’re] lucky to have a lot of great partners.”

A big polystyrene culprit was to-go cups, which have mainly been replaced with paper or compostable options. Coffey says cost implications have been minimal. “[At] our core locations where we own the inventory there were some [cost] implications,” Coffey explains. “But we felt like we can make those changes and tighten our belt in other areas to be able to achieve and make it financially viable without raising prices to the customers.”

The transition is a natural one in the grand scope of Duke’s sustainability initiative, and students overall are pleased. “We have a food committee that meets once a week with dining administration,” Coffey says. “[We] got a lot of feedback through that group [as well as the] student government. [It’s] definitely a positive for everyone. They’re glad to see that the change was made.”

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