USC to consider sustainable packaging

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Styrofoam food container garbage

Shaun Ding

We try to eat food that is good for our bodies, but what about using food packaging that is good for the Earth?

The University Students’ Council is considering using more sustainable food containers in its restaurants.

USC VP-campus issues James Arthurs said a plan to use more sustainable packaging will be unveiled in January.

“The new plan is looking into sustainable operations at the Wave and the Spoke, as well as, things like reusable grocery bags.”

EnviroWestern co-ordinator Will Bortolin said these initiatives are a step in the right direction. Bortolin maintained it is important to find biodegradable alternatives to the Styrofoam containers filling campus garbage bins.

“Styrofoam is a cheap, light insulator,” he said. “It’s great for business, but it doesn’t break down ... In our minds [garbage] just disappears, but that’s not the case.”

Bortolin explained there are different levels of biodegradability. “Styrofoam is almost completely non-biodegradable, but paper products used at the Spoke do eventually break down.”

The most sustainable products are potato-starch based, and can biodegrade within six to 12 months, Bortolin said.

He pointed out the Grad Club has already switched to biodegradable take-out containers.

The Grad Club’s general manager Marc Lalonde said, up until Sept. 20 of this year, the Grad Club used Styrofoam products, much like other campus restaurants. In response to requests from graduate students, the Grad Club changed its policy.

“We are trying to be more environmentally friendly,” Lalonde said. “All of us have to do our share.”

But replacing Styrofoam packaging comes at a cost. “These cost about a nickel more per container,” Lalonde said. “But in the long run, it’s better for the business if we show that we care about the environment.”

The new take-out boxes biodegrade in 90 days if composted, Lalonde added.

Arthurs said Western has a responsibility to find more sustainable solutions. “The Spoke and Wave are high-traffic areas [that] contribute to high-waste on campus.

“We’re trying to reduce the amount of waste we produce,” he said.

Fourth-year political science and biology student Steven Buchalter said sustainable alternatives are currently few and far between on campus. “When I’m here I try to go somewhere with an actual plate so I’m not creating waste.

“I think offering recyclable or biodegradable packaging is a great way to encourage students to conserve,” he said.

Arthurs assured the USC would take action as soon as possible. “The reason we can’t just snap our fingers is there are many costs and lengthy processes involved.”

The USC must work with its food distributing company, SYSCO, to meet sustainable goals.

When asked if the USC is doing a good job of providing sustainable services, Bortolin was hesitant, but positive.

“I don’t think they’re sitting on their hands.”

“It’s evident that environmental sustainability is a pertinent issue to students,” Arthurs said. “It’s not just a fad.”

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