NYU has made a wake. Let’s Surf it USF!!

December 7, 2009 at 10:08 AM Leave a comment

Dining’s bottled water ban a small step for sustainability
by Pratik Mehta, NYU

As part of NYU Dining’s incremental push toward environmental sustainability, both the Kimmel Market Place and Upstein have removed bottled water from their meal plan options. They now provide compostable cups made from plant material to students who wish to drink water or fountain soda.

Bottled water, like several other convenience items, is an environmental disgrace. According to the Earth Policy Institute, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year, and more than 17 million barrels of oil are needed annually to satisfy this demand in the U.S. alone. NYU Dining made the right decision in removing bottled water from the thousands of meals students consume each week.

However, this action is a small step. Despite boasting about sustainability efforts on its website, NYU Dining has been painfully slow in making other reforms that are equally logical and worthy of attention.

First, Kimmel and Upstein still offer paper cups alongside the more eco-friendly compostable ones (or they did when I visited them earlier this week). In fact, the paper ones were larger than the compostable ones. Like any reasonable college student, my first instinct was to make the most of the money spent on my meal plan and to grab the bigger cup, which utterly defeats the lofty rhetoric on the NYU Dining website.

If NYU Dining is serious about sustainability, it should offer equally-sized paper and compostable cups, and, really, it shouldn’t offer paper cups at all. Although paper cups are a step up from bottled water, they are no match, sustainability-wise, for the compostable cups.

Second, the carry-out cartons at traditional dining halls do not mesh with NYU Dining’s commitment to “reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable planet.” These cartons are more eco-friendly than previous containers (as the stickers slapped on them remind diners), but the fact remains that most of these cartons will be thrown in the trash and inevitably find their way to landfills. When you count the thousands of carry-out meals that are eaten each week, the environmental damage adds up quickly.

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., requires students who want take-out meals from dining halls to bring their own Tupperware containers. Instead of incrementally improving the quality of carry-out cartons, Smith’s policy eliminates the problem of pollution in one fell swoop.

A similar situation exists with disposable cups, even the compostable ones. I agree it is fantastic to have cups that degrade into soil and nutrients over a period of years, but why hurt the environment at all? Many environmentalists quibble over the benefits of paper vs. plastic; biodegradable vs. compostable; and recycling vs. reusing an environmentally harmful product. Often they’re missing the point.

The real solution is reducing the amount of products we use every day. This would diminish our environmental impact and circumvent the original problem of pollution. To this end, the University of Maryland distributes reusable hot/cold mugs to students, eliminating the need for disposable cups. A similar action where NYU Dining distributes metal or Nalgene bottles to all students with a meal plan would eliminate thousands of cups in the garbage, regardless of whether they’re compostable.

NYU Dining was right to remove bottled water from its meal plan options at Kimmel and Upstein. However, if it is to truly stand up to the rhetoric and image of sustainability presented on its website, there are several options that still must be implemented.

USF: We need to catch on to this.

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Entry filed under: 1, Water. Tags: , , , , .

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