Monday, September 25, 2023

University dining halls continue their use of plastic utensils

NewsCampus NewsUniversity dining halls continue their use of plastic utensils

Staff Reporter

As the unknown of the COVID-19 virus loomed on the university’s campus in early 2020, the metal silverware in the dining halls served its final meals. In recent years, with COVID-19, the demand for single-use plastics has increased as people work to use items that lessen the spread of the coronavirus.  

According to Jennifer Mackiewicz, marketing manager for Dining Services, before the 2021 academic year, “residential locations on campus regularly used dishware and silverware.” 

Research has shown that the coronavirus has the ability to live on stainless steel for up to three days. During the pandemic, the university made a switch to single-use plastic utensils in the three on-campus dining halls to lessen the chance of spread. While this change may have COVID-19-related benefits, the advantages are met with environmental disadvantages. 

As society has become more knowledgeable about the spread of COVID-19, university students question why the dining halls have not made the switch back to reusable utensils.  

“When so much plastic is used and then thrown away, it accumulates over time and never completely goes away,” Sasha Altman, second year environmental studies and public policy major who is a member of Students for the Environment and Environmental Justice, said. 

 The negative effects of the plastic that is thrown away are only a part of the overall environmental impact. The buildup of plastic waste has caused the creation of microplastics, plastic particles that have been broken down into microscopic pieces.  

“We are introducing microplastics into our own bodies and the bodies of our Earth,” Lindsay Naylor, associate professor of Geography and Spatial Sciences in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, said. 

According to National Geographic, the microplastics within us could lead to numerous health conditions, including DNA damage, allergic reactions and cell death. 

Furthermore, the process of getting these plastic utensils into our dining halls is just as harmful as throwing them out. 

 “You have to think [about] the gasoline that it takes to ship everything [to the school], and then to ship all the trash to landfills,” Altman said.  

These additional factors pile up to create more damage that was not as pertinent of a concern before the wide-spread of single-use items. Increased awareness for the planet’s environmental crisis has led to an increased number of students and faculty speaking up about environmental issues to inspire the university to change. 

Although the student body and faculty members are fighting for change, dining services has not halted its use of plastic utensils. 

“Sustainability is a priority, and we continue to place special emphasis on sourcing responsibly, operating efficiently, minimizing food waste and reducing packaging,” Mackiewicz said on behalf of Dining Services.  

Yet despite the strong claims, many students and staff feel as though the university is not taking action to match their words. 

On-campus protests, petitions and numerous lengthy meetings have already been held in attempts to change the upper administration’s viewpoints on sustainability. In spite of these demonstrations, changes have not been made by dining services.  

Several registered student organizations (RSOs) and the university’s Sustainability Board are already working towards plans for the fall semester on how to tackle this ongoing battle with the university. 

Environmental RSOs are “working with the Sustainability Council and [faculty members] to find a new Sustainability Chair member for the university [and] are currently planning a rally at the school for when we go back,” Altman said. 

Students across the university are coming together to fight for this change with concern for both the environment and their futures as their driving motive. 

“I can’t imagine not paying attention to the voices of a generation that might live less long because of the climate,” Naylor said. 




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