Ecotainers Underused, Despite Benefits
Although $32,00 in Commons dishes were replaced last year, and many Reedies consider themselves environmentally conscious, the eco-tainers that were developed to address these issues are rarely used.
Bon Appétit introduced eco-tainers as an alternative to plates, but last year approximately only 180 students bought eco-tainers. Between 1,100 and 1,200 students regularly eat lunch at Commons, and between 500 and 600 eat breakfast and dinner there. The eco-tainers were introduced as a way to cut losses from replacing plates and to create an environmentally friendly takeout box.
While there’s no simple reason for the low use of eco-tainers, there are some foods that cannot be transported in eco-tainers, for example, soups, admits Leo Fraser, Bon Appetit’s assistant operations manager.
Some students find other problems with the eco-tainers. “Having to disrupt the cashier line to get the eco-tainer is inconvenient and the containers are also kind of cumbersome,” says freshman Eleanor Pike, who purchased an eco-tainer last week. However, Fraser believes that more knowledge about the amount of product loss and landfill that eco-tainers can prevent would prompt many students to get them.
A greater use of eco-tainers would actually cut costs and help the environment, says Fraser. Loss from students not returning plates cost Reed and Bon Appétit a total of $ 32,000 last year. Because there is a maximum amount that Bon Appétit pays for plate loss, Reed covers the rest, trading off with other funds that could benefit students, Fraser says.
Although the discrepancy between the number of people who use plates versus those who use eco-tainers problematizes many comparisons, “eco-tainers disappear more slowly,” Fraser notes. The eco-tainers, he believes, cut costs because students pay five dollars for them in advance and reuse them. Students receive a 20-cent discount when purchasing food in eco-tainers, and after 25 uses the container pays for itself.
However, the pay system raises the question of why regular plates are not put on a purchase-and-reuse system, essentially why eco-tainers are necessary. The containers solve two problems in one by also being an environmentally friendly take out box, says Fraser.
What makes the eco-tainers environmentally friendly? The eco-tainers undergo the same washing process as plates and require the same energy output. However, when the eco-tainers have reached the end of their life, they are recyclable #5. The polypropolene plastic is a tough material with a high melting point, making it dishwasher- and microwave-safe, but still recyclable.
The plastic eco-tainers also do not contain BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical found in some plastics, (although BPA is not the only hormone-disrupter found in even safe plastics). Fraser could not say for certain if the regular plates in Commons are also BPA-free, but felt it is likely that they are.