Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Money, Money, Money...Money!

Today I met with Steve Rose, the Director of Dining Services at IU South Bend. We discussed the possibility of switching from using Styrofoam products to biodegradable products. In short, this transition will involve a step-by-step process. Well, that's not quite true. From what I gathered from today's meeting, there's really only one step involved: money. According to Steve, biodegradable products cost twice as much as the Styrofoam. So until those prices fall, which is unlikely to happen in the near future, IU South Bend will continue to purchase Styrofoam goods.

Although I learned about the relative cost differences associated to using Styrofoam vs. biodegradable plastic, I couldn't obtain the absolute prices. I really would like to know how much money it costs to order Styrofoam vs. 'bio-plastic'. If I knew those actual price estimates, then I could find out whether it's possible to do business with a company that would offer us a good deal on bio-plastics.

So, what do we do? At this time, the likelihood of making this switch is slim-to-none. And I wonder how many students and faculty would raise a demand for this switch. According to Steve, IU South Bend consumes so many disposable products because we're a commuter campus. Of course, there's no evidence to confirm or deny this claim; it's merely speculation at this point. But I'm curious to know how many students and faculty would be willing to use bio-plastic, even if that meant paying more money for these products.

Another alternative would be to provide a financial incentive (i.e., discount) to individuals who bring their reusable mugs and containers for on-campus dining. And I was also thinking of incorporating additional recycling bins for Styrofoam. Steve said that it's possible to have these recycling bins, but that it would be difficult for people to separate their trash from the Styrofoam container. He suggested that the Recycling Committee could have a booth in the dining hall to educate people on how to properly dispose of their used Styrofoam.

So that's what happened this afternoon. I'll report back to the Recycling Committee next month and see where we go from here. Until then, I'll keep brainstorming some ideas on how to curb our Styrofoam habit.

Oh! And before I forget: I also mentioned the possibility of composting the bio-plastic. (This was based on Radical Garbage Man's brilliant suggestion from last week's comment. Thanks RGM!!) Unfortunately, that idea kinda fell flat on its head. I learned that I would first have to discuss this with Facilities, find a location on campus to deal with the compost, and maintain it. As I listened to the logistics of actually implementing this program, I realized that this was a moot issue for two reasons: 1) IU South Bend isn't going to order any bio-plastics for now, and 2) dining services generates little food waste. So while I genuinely like this idea, I think it'll have to be tabled until the possibility of buying bio-plastics becomes more probable.


Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank said...

One thing I'm learning is that if there are no facilities for composting the bio-plastics, then they don't biodegrade. I learned yesterday that bio-plastics take much longer to compost than other materials. So you have to have a facility that will compost the material for an extra long amount of time.

These problems are so complex!!! I know we have to stop using plastic and styrofoam, but I'm really wondering if bio-plastics are going to be the miracle solution they seem to be. And apparently, some of them are made from GMO corn, or so I've heard.

I think our biggest challenge is to convince people to use fewer disposable items to begin with, no matter what they are made of.

Radical Garbage Man said...

I really would like to know how much money it costs to order Styrofoam vs. 'bio-plastic'.

Blog post and ye shall receive!

Here's a link to an online ordering source for bioplastics:


Here is a website that sources conventional, petroleum-based products:


I wonder how many students and faculty would raise a demand for this switch

Without advertising and public education, none. But if something like this were postered all over campus?

BUT -- as I posted before, if you don't have a way to properly dispose of the bioplastics (and only industrial-type composting will do it), then it's a) not worth the extra money and b) not helping keep things out of the landfill.

Paygro in South Charleston, OH is, I believe, the only existing commercial composting facility that will accept bioplastics within 300 miles of your campus. For detailed information about commercial composting facilities, see the online edition of BioCycle Magazine at http://www.biocycle.net/biocycle.htm. Biocycle is trade publication for the compost industry.

Another acceptable disposal method for bioplastics is anaerobic digestion, which produces methane as a fuel for generating electricity. In my humble opinion, it is not half as green as composting, but if you can convince your facilities folks that it would save them money on electricity, you might make more headway. Caveat: we're talking about a multi-million dollar public works project here, but if you can convince the great State of Indiana that it would be a pioneering enterprise in energy independence, you might have a chance. In this scenario, you would have to accept organic material from the surrounding area to ensure sufficient feedstock for a digester/generator.

Discounts for bringing your own cups and cutlery seem easier.

Experimentaholic said...

I like the discount for bringing your own mug. Works for me at Whole foods. But one thing I have learned working in a big faceless state university is that enacting change takes a lot of effort, so good luck in getting your agenda forward!