Take-out meals raise concerns about waste | News

Harvard students have raised concerns about litter produced by take-out meals over the past two weeks, citing the accumulation of litter produced by plastic take-out containers.

Dining halls switched to take-out meals for the first two weeks of the semester to avoid high-density indoor gatherings. Take-out meals rely on the use of plastic containers and disposable cutlery, which have been criticized by students.

Several students found take-out meals to be a drawback. Quincy House resident Danielle M. Kelly ’23 said she wants dining rooms to resume normal operations and stop disposable tableware.

“I hate it. I’m miserable,” she said. “It’s so bulky, with disasters like me spilling hot, scalding tea all over the floor because I’m holding things like an idiot .”

Take-out meals have also increased the amount of waste generated by students. Administrators at some homes have emailed residents saying the accumulation of take-out containers in small bins in common areas has burdened cleaning staff. The emails urged students to drop off their trash at certain disposal sites.

Jeremy J. Rasmussen Jr. ’24 said he considered it “a little ridiculous” that administrators task students with handling the extra trash.

“I’ve already had to take out the trash about five times this week,” he said.

The students also recognized the sustainability issues posed by disposable containers.

A bin at Adams House holds waste produced from take-out meals. By Pei Chao Zhuo

Owen O. Ebose ’25, a representative of the College’s resource efficiency program, said the University could re-direct the money it spends on take-out food containers to improving the dining experience of students. students. He raised concerns about the environmental impacts of using so much plastic on a daily basis.

“Plastic is really harmful to the environment, not only because of the toxins released from the plastic itself, but also because of the petroleum used to produce the plastic, which of course contributes to emissions,” Ebose added.

Daniel Shen ’24 said he brought his own reusable container at the start of the semester, but a dining room employee asked him to use the disposable containers instead to avoid “possible contamination.”

“I think they could do better by considering reusable containers,” Shen said.

Sofia Andrade ’23-’24 acknowledged the safety concerns behind the College’s choice to avoid indoor dining for the start of the semester.

“I understand their necessity right now during the pandemic,” she said. “There will be a lot more spread in indoor spaces where people don’t have their masks on.”

But Andrade, a Crimson Arts chair, said the disposable bags offered in every dining room can also lead to increased food waste.

“I think the school seems to have encouraged people to take these big brown bags full of food,” she said. “In the same way that trays make you waste more — like taking more food than you’ll eat — these bags, I think, do the same thing.”

The Harvard chapter of Green2Go – a student initiative that aims to reduce plastic waste on college campuses across the United States – has taken steps to discuss reusable container options with students, HUDS and the Office for Sustainability. The chapter was not founded as a result of the switch to take-out meals, but member Isha M. Sangani ’24 said “the timing coincides”.

Harvard’s Green2Go chapter aims to implement a “reusable container pilot program,” similar to the existing program at Dartmouth University, in one or two dining halls by the end of February, according to Sangani.

Ebose, another Green2Go chapter member, said the program would be a token system where students exchange a token for a reusable container. When they bring the container back they will collect the token and HUDS will wash the container.

Green2Go circulated a survey asking students what they knew about disposable containers provided in dining halls this semester. According to Ebose, 36% of students who responded did not know the containers were recyclable or compostable. Of the students who did, more than half say they do not recycle or compost regularly.

Crista Martin, Harvard University’s Restoration Services Director for Strategic Initiatives and Communications, wrote in an email that HUDS considers sustainability in planning its operations.

“A major focus area of ​​HUDS’ strategic vision includes concern for the environmental impact of our programs and services,” Martin wrote. “As such, as we navigate the phases of the pandemic, we continue to uphold this principle in our planning. »

She added that HUDS will “closely monitor student comfort levels” in deciding whether to allow reusable containers and will prioritize social distancing measures in dining halls.

“The University’s existing resources for recycling and composting remain in place across campus, and we are grateful to the community for taking the additional steps needed now to properly dispose of their waste,” she wrote. .

Undergraduate dining halls reopened Tuesday for reduced-density dining. Take-out containers are always available for students.

– Writer Christie K. Choi can be reached at [email protected]

– Managing Editor Carrie Hsu can be reached at [email protected]

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