With several “green” initiatives already in play, CSU aims to foster an environmentally conscious student body. Don’t believe it? Just ask the dishes.
Select Lory Student Center dining vendors, such as Bagel Place, at the start of semester began carrying green-friendly cutlery and straws made of biodegradable cornstarch rather than petroleum-based plastic.
Gradually, all food disposables offered by LSC Dining Services – cups, plates, napkins and more – will be manufactured from renewable resources.
The managers of Bagel Place and Cam’s Lobby Shop have worked since May to organize the inventory influx of sustainable, environmentally friendly products.
Ken DeVault, Bagel Place manager and retail operations manager for LSC Dining, said the effort to go green stemmed from university input and restaurant industry trends indicating growth of consumer demand for sustainable practices.
“(LSC Dining) has been given student input, and that’s what we base everything that we do on,” DeVault said. “Students . want to start using recycled material as a group.”
National trends and the desires of students have fueled the push toward environmentally friendly dining, DeVault said. He refers to the results of several annual CSU surveys, including the campus-encompassing Educational Benchmarking Inc. survey, showing that students favor a green movement.
Last year’s National Restaurant Association conference in Chicago notes “green items” is “one of the largest growing segments” of the industry, he added.
Even everyday conversation has cemented DeVault’s confidence in the shift.
“I know that in-house comments from student customers and student employees have been, ‘Hey, we should do this,'” DeVault said.
Through copious phone calls, Cam’s Lobby Shop manager Hal Maddox helped the LSC Dining management team perform preliminary research.
“Everything we’re looking into is made of either corn or sugarcane pulp, pretty much,” Maddox said.
The Bagel Place currently purchases its cutlery and straws from Eco-Products, a Boulder-based company established in 1990. Eco-Products best serves the purchasing needs of LSC Dining, Maddox said, due to the wide variety of products the vendor offers.
The cutlery and straws on shelves now consist of polylactic acid (PLA) plastic, touted by Smithsonian Magazine as “the future of plastic in a post-petroleum world.”
PLA plastic has the look and function of standard plastic, but whereas conventional plastic is produced from oil, PLA is derived from corn.
NatureWorks LLC, PLA manufacturer, designed the plastic to biodegrade into natural compounds in a commercial composting setting, which would save landfill space. The Eco-Products Web site said PLA investment goes “back to the U.S. economy rather than to overseas oil companies,” as PLA is competitively priced.
Yet PLA critics point to NatureWorks’s use of genetically modified corn for pest resistance. Increased use of pesticides and fertilizers in corn cultivation can contribute to water contamination, soil erosion and ecosystem imbalances.
A University of Florida study found that PLA releases common greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane gas during degradation.
NatureWorks is in the process of researching PLA cultivation from GMO-free corn. The growth of plants used for PLA can offset carbon output, and an independent study commissioned by NatureWorks found PLA manufacturing used 20 to 65 percent less energy than in the production of regular plastic.
But the cornerstone issue with PLA plastics, in the case for CSU, is that PLA typically requires commercial composting in order to be fully biodegradable.
Even in a home composting bin, PLA will not degrade as quickly as in a composting facility. Specific waste facilities nationwide handle food composting, and only six have been designated in Colorado: in Flatteville, Golden, Keenesburg, Glenwood Springs, Hudson Springs and Boulder.
“Our compost issue right now is not so much an issue of having bins to throw the stuff in. It’s a very large-scale thing,” Maddox said. “There’s a lot of logistics as far as the composting end goes, which is honestly going to be the most difficult part.”
Scott Briggs, an intern for Housing & Dining Services Communications, is researching sustainable alternatives for the Styrofoam takeout containers in the residence halls.
“Personally, I really think the university needs to start a large-scale composting program,” Briggs said.
Students can expect to see the cutlery and straws at both Bagel Place and Bagel Place 2, which will convert to PLA plastics by the end of February. Over the course of the semester, other sustainable products will replace conventional disposables as inventory runs out. The next shipment from Eco-Products, for napkins and plates, is expected mid-month.
“Our main goal is just to get something started,” DeVault said. “All we want to do is be able to take a small step, even though there’s not an existing composting facility.”
Other LSC Dining operations that will be affected by the inventory switch include Sweet Sinsations, Ramskeller, Aspen Grille, That’s a Wrap, CSU Catering and both coffee carts. DeVault said he aims for all disposables at these locations to switch to sustainable counterparts by the fall semester.
“Campus has been around for over 100 years, and to make these changes just takes a long time,” DeVault said. “But we’ve, just as a group here in LSC Dining, decided that we’re going to do our best to take our first step.”
Staff writer Shayna Grajo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org