Food Court Sustainability

The Associated Student Government and the Resident Interhall Congress are pushing for increased campus sustainability by reducing plastic waste.

Associated Student Government and Residents’ Interhall Congress legislation supporting reduced plastic use has successfully reduced waste in the Arkansas Union food court, a Chartwells Dining official said.

Since collaborating with ASG, Chartwells officials have observed a substantial reduction in plastic waste, said Andrew Lipson, resident district manager at Chartwells.

“In Pei Wei, we have seen a drop of 25% in plastic bag use, and we have completely stopped using the individually wrapped plastic forks, spoons and knives,” Lipson said.

In February, ASG senators passed Senate Resolution No. 8, which supported efforts to reduce and consolidate plastic use in the food court. Since passing the resolution, ASG and Chartwells have been able to change how corporate vendors use plastic packaging and cutlery in the Arkansas Union food court..

Pei Wei and True Burger employees have already changed their packaging systems with regard to utensils, condiment and plastic bag distribution in compliance with ASG’s proposals, said Sophie Hill, Residents’ Interhall Congress director of sustainability and co-author of the resolution.

At Pei Wei, cashiers now give out plastic to-go bags by request only and do not give out pre-packaged plastic utensils. Students can get utensils as needed from stations at the food court, Hill said.

Chartwells officials have received positive feedback from guests regarding the changes at Pei Wei, Lipson said. The guests they have heard from were pleased about the option to use less plastic, he said.

Chartwells added condiment dispensers between the True Burger and Chick-fil-A stations to replace individual condiment packages, but food court guests initially hesitated to embrace this change, said Will Motazedi, ASG director of sustainability.

Chartwells supplies plastic cups to hold condiments, and some guests brought up concerns about this creating substantial waste, Motazedi said.

“There are several ways to mitigate that issue, but that was one thing we had to be very careful about whenever Chartwells implemented that,” Motazedi said.

Motazedi and Hill, the Resident Interhall Congress director of sustainability, decided that using plastic cups is less wasteful than using individual condiment packages, because cups do not have to be single-use items.

“You can come back and use the same cup twice, but you can’t use the same ketchup packet twice,” Motazedi said.

Chartwells is working to make the switch from plastic to paper cups for condiments, Lipson said.

“We could save a bit more with mindful use of the condiment pumps,” Lipson said. “Guests are using the portion cups, which add to plastic usage. We are looking at the small paper portion cups as an alternative.”

After Senate Resolution No. 8 passed through the Senate, getting support from Chartwells was a seamless process, Motazedi said.

“Whenever we were meeting with the Chartwells people, they were already on board with a lot of what we were wanting to propose, so the resolution just helped us get the student support for it,” Motazedi said.

Motazedi is working with the Union Advisory Committee to create graphics and marketing materials about plastic waste, which Chartwells will display in the food court, he said.

Hill is working with other RIC members to enforce “Ban the Bottle” policies, which the organization adopted in 2015.

Under the policy, money from the RIC budget can no longer go toward the purchase of bottled water. RIC members no longer hand out bottled water at their events and encourage students who attend to bring their own reusable water bottles, Hill said.

The UA Office of Sustainability plans to make the UofA 90% waste-free by 2040 through waste prevention planning and increased recycling and composting. The primary objectives of Zero Waste are to prevent waste before it happens and to keep plastic out of landfills, according to the UA Office of Sustainability’s outline of the Zero Waste Goal.

 

Katelyn Duby is a news editor for the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as a reporter in 2018 and a senior staff reporter in 2019.

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