Reusable Foodware On the Way

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Reusable Foodware On the Way

To-go boxes near the entrance to Proctor Dining Hall.

To-go boxes near the entrance to Proctor Dining Hall.


To-go boxes near the entrance to Proctor Dining Hall.



To-go boxes near the entrance to Proctor Dining Hall.


Dining services has ordered 2,000 reusable containers and is working with student authors of an SGA bill to create a reusable to-go container system. They hope to switch over to the system one week after students return from spring break.

The SGA bill was introduced on Jan. 28 by Leif Taranta ’20.5, Sierra Moen ’17.5 and Feb Senator and SGA Speaker Rae Aaron ’19.5. It calls for the complete removal of to-go cups and containers from all dining halls in order to reduce waste generated by the college.

A straw poll within the SGA indicated support for the bill, though several senators were concerned with the loss of to-go cups. At this time, no official vote has been taken.

The college currently uses 241,000 non-compostable to-go cups per year and 181,000 containers, all of which end up in landfills. Although the containers are compostable, many are thrown away. Dining services spends about $21,000 each year on to-go cups and lids, as well as $27,000 on containers, and estimates that the proposed program would save them $12,000 in just the first year.

According to the proposed bill, the disposable containers would be replaced by reusable containers that students could check out. Each student would have to put down a deposit on a carabiner that would function as a token, which could be exchanged for a to-go box at the dining halls. When the box is returned, the student would be given another token to get a new box in the future. Dining services would then clean the containers for students. Students would be expected to provide their own travel thermoses if they wanted to take away hot drinks.

Students would pay five dollars at any campus retail location to get their first carabiners, which they could exchange for their five dollar deposits at any time. These deposits would be applied to their declining balances. If a student lost their carabiner or reusable container, they would have to pay another $5 to get a new carabiner.

The new containers cost the college $6,995 or $3.50 per container. The college also plans to purchase 2,000 carabiners, costing $1.15 each.

Sophomore Senator Jack Goldfield ’20 and others voiced opposition to the initial five dollar buy-in. Other concerns included the ease of use of the new system and the availability and cleanliness of containers.

A pilot period for the to-go boxes occurred during December and one of the complaints of the otherwise-successful program was that the boxes were too big. “It would be too difficult from an operational standpoint to have multiple containers,” said Dan Detora, head of dining. He also said that other colleges with similar reusable to-go container systems use only one container size.

Detora indicated that disposable silverware would stay. Disposable to-go cups will also still be available at the non-dining hall food locations campus, such as Wilson Café, but discounts will be offered for those students who bring reusable mugs to be filled there. Some locations, including Wilson and Crossroads, already offer discounts for reusable mugs, which would be advertised as part of the new program since many students are not aware of the discounts.

A clause in the bill stipulates that travel mugs and water bottles be made available for purchase at wholesale prices at college retail locations and that students receiving financial aid will receive funds to cover these additional costs.

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About the Photographer
SABINE POUX, Senior News Editor

Sabine Poux ‘20 is Senior News Editor.
She previously served as a news editor, an arts & sciences editor and a staff writer.
At Middlebury, Sabine...

1 Comment

One Response to “Reusable Foodware On the Way”

  1. Christine on March 3rd, 2018 2:13 am

    Summary of Concern: 95% of plastics cause hormone disruption in the human endocrine system after microwaving (Times). The “microwave safe” and/or “BPA Free” label only indicates that the plastic will not burn your hands after heating (Thrillist). Even “eco-friendly” takeout containers still leech chemicals into your food causing hormone disruption. The rate at which this poisoning increases as the plastic container is continually microwaved is unknown, especially as containers become scratched/and or cracked.


    50 years ago, cooking in aluminum pots and pans was thought to be “quality,” “cheap,” and “safe.” Today, scientists are finding aluminum residues on the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients, and aluminum is now “considered a primary etiological factor in Alzheimer’s Disease” (Exley.) Today microwavable plastics are similarly thought to be “quality,” “cheap,” and “safe.” In reality, any product can only maximize at most two of the following: cost, quality, time. This is the classical triple constraint (Baratta.) The compostable containers are high quality and convenient, therefore they cost more. The plastic containers are inconvenient to students and of questionable quality, therefore they’re “cheaper” initially if we don’t count the cost to our students’ health. Baratta:…/triple-constraint-erroneous…Exley:…/journal-of…/adr170010

    1. Chemical Poisoning (Student): The sugar-cane based to-go containers presently being used do not leach toxic chemicals into food when microwaved. However, all plastic containers leach hormone disrupting chemical which corrupt the human endocrine system. How will students be compensated for their pain and suffering due chemical exposure from the implementation of plastic to-go containers?
    2. Chemical Poisoning (Factory Workers): By choosing to purchase over 2,000 to-go containers, Middlebury College, an elite, wealthy institution, is creating an increased consumer demand for the production of plastics. However, the NIH has proven that workers in plastic factories are exposed to abnormally high amount of a toxic, mutagenic chemical called styrene (NIH). This styrene exposure is associated with leukemia and lymphoma (EPA.) Although the hazardous environment of the factory is a known contributor to the workers long-term chronic It is very difficult for these factory workers to have their medical treatment compensated by their employer. Is it ethical for a wealthy institution like Middlebury to knowingly jeopardize the health and increase the pain and suffering of factory workers by creating a greater demand for plastics?
    3. Reusable Container Lifespan: Microwave containers must eventually be disposed of when they become scratched or cracked. However, the proposed initiative assumes that each to-go container will be re-used 60 times (181,200 to-go container usages/ 3,000 reusable containers). Is this realistic? How many times can one of these containers be used before it needs to be disposed? Will the need to prematurely dispose of used to-go containers impact the proposed cost savings?
    4. Cost of Meat vs. Cost of To-go Containers: Presently, the annual take-out container expenditure is approximately $10.86 per student/per year. Since there are hundreds of vegetarian and vegan students on campus not consuming costly meat products in the dining facilities, does the cost savings from lower meat and/or dairy consumption make up for the cost of one-use to-go containers?
    5. Token System Logistics: Most token or carabiner systems require either a human or mechanical operator. The alternative would be to increase the workload of the dining services without compensation which is morally wrong. Will the cost either hiring a staff member or installing machines in every dining hall to handle the token/carabiner system negative the $12,000 in cost savings?
    6. High Cost of Room and Board: The example given into the video references Xavier University. Unlike Middlebury, a residential college, Xavier University permits all upperclassmen to opt-out of the meal plan entirely by living off campus. By contrast, you have to win the residential life lottery as a senior to live off campus. Even then, opting out of the meal plan is difficult. The cost of room and board at Middlebury is over $200 higher than at Xavier. Does the additional $500,000 we as the student body each pay for room and board services not the mere $10/student cost of one-use containers?
    7. Existing Discounts: In the recommendations, the SGA recommends “Significant discounts are made available at Wilson Cafe, Crossroads, and other locations around campus for students who bring their own reusable mugs.” However, these cost savings already exist in Wilson Cafe. Has the SGA done an analysis of the waste produced by Wilson Cafe to see if the implementation of these discounts has reduced waste?

    Alternative Approaches
    1. Address the Dishware Stealing Problem: According to the Chronicle, in 2011 the Middlebury communications department created a character named “Aunt Des” because Middlebury students were throwing away $50,000 of reusable porcelain dishware (FB Aunt Des.) Why is SGA trying to save $5,000 on to-go containers when the problem of throwing away $50,000 annually is larger by an order of magnitude? Will the implementation of plastic containers encourage students to steal more dining hall dishes?
    2. Implement Campus-Wide Tiny Trash: Implemented at the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, Tiny Trash is a program that makes recycling as easy as landfilling (UI.) Under-desk trash cans are replaced with a tiny trash can that clips a full-size under-desk recycling bin. At the University of Iowa, according to waste audits the result of the implementation of this program was a 40% reduction in overall landfill waste. Yet 70% of participants reported an “easy” or “indifferent” transition process. The magnitude of the impact of the reusable to-go container program on overall waste in unclear. Has the SGA considered the Tiny Trash program as an alternative means of decreasing overall campus waste production?

    From the Literature
    “One of the most common way to cook or reheat food is based on the use of microwave oven, a very widespread practice because of the short time and ease of use, provided specific containers which can withstand heating cycles are used. Most commonly these containers are made out of glass, ceramic or plastic (polypropylene or polycarbonate). When using plastic containers, PAEs, APs, BPA and DEHA can be transferred to the food fostered by the high temperatures of the microwave radiations. However, little is known on the migration of these compounds during the so common microwave heating of home prepared foods” (Fasono 2015).


    SGA Sustainability Initiative:
    FB Aunt Des:
    UI (University of Iowa Tiny Trash Program):
    Fasono Literature Article:

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Reusable Foodware On the Way