The Slow Switchover

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Sheryl KidwellTaking the time to switch over to biodegradable disposables was worth it for Sheryl Kidwell, assistant director at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. By taking things slow, Kidwell says the department was able to weigh which products would make the biggest impact.

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Sheryl KidwellIn the heart of the Midwest, Sheryl Kidwell admits that it takes awhile for the trends of the coasts to reach the University of Kansas in Lawrence. As assistant director of residential dining at the 30,000-student university, Kidwell says it was her department’s aim to be proactive with its plans for sustainability by pursuing biodegradable disposables.

“We started researching in late spring of last year and it lasted through the summer. We made a big effort to research the various companies that were coming out with disposables that were biodegradable, compostable or made from recycled materials. Through that research, we made choices based on our biggest usage in terms of disposables, which was eating utensils. So that is where we made the first and biggest switch. From there, we researched other types of containers such as plates and bowls, but also take-out containers with lids. We are currently looking at paper and plastic cups.

One thing to note with the switch to biodegradable and compostable materials is that we aren’t actually composting yet. We are in the infancy stages of putting together a campus committee that is looking into composting. We are examining the possibility of an in-vessel composting device on campus but at this point we’re in the research stage. Currently, we have made the switch with our to-go bags, so we now use bags that are made from recycled materials. All of our disposable eating utensils are now biodegradable and compostable, as well as our napkins, 8-inch plates and pizza boxes at our new self-branded pizza concept called Za. That new concept has been very popular and it was another one of our summer projects. It’s nice to see this new popular concept make good use of our switch to more environmentally friendly disposables.

The next thing we are going to switch over is the take-out containers with lids in our retail locations. We’re trying to get rid of all the old ones before making the switch. We have quite a few cases left of our old ones, which are pretty much a black Styrofoam bottom with a clear lid. We’re going to go to a compostable container, made from recycled materials. Those have been ordered and they are ready to be delivered as soon as we get rid of the old ones. It’s a little give and take with that because we’ll be giving up the clear lids, but I think it’s a good trade-off to be able to say that we are using materials that are compostable and made from recycled materials.

The next step in the process is to see what kind of difference we’re making. With our “Lose the Lid” campaign (see pg. 32), which encourages students not to use lids on fountain drinks, we’ve seen a 45% reduction in the number of lids used during just one semester. That’s just in one unit and we implemented the program in all the retail units. I think the impact of switching the disposables will be comparable.

I can’t stress enough the importance of research. Also, I feel like it’s OK to take the transition slow. Don’t feel like you have to make the switch all at one time. Weigh what’s important to you, not only for your operation but also for your customer base. Where can you make the biggest impact first? That’s why we started with the eating utensils because that seemed to be the thing we used the most of. Educating your students and your staff about what you’re doing and why is also essential.”



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