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.