Salad. It’s inherently healthy. It suffices for a quick on-the-go meal or as a gourmet entrée. So how could something that is innately good for you be so unhealthy?
In the salad’s defense, it isn’t the salad itself. It’s the containers we all use to take them on-the-go. We’re all guilty of it- myself included. One of the first things I noticed when arriving at Eastern was how much waste I produced with my daily salad for lunch. On top of the plastic container that holds the greens, then there is usually a plastic bag of croutons and another plastic bag for the dressing. Add in the plastic fork and napkins you use while eating the salad, and by the time you’re done, you have a mountain of plastic next to you. Tackling the plastic bags, forks, and containers is far too much to cover in one blog post, so I’ll focus on what I researched in last week’s break-out session: simply, the plastic containers we use for the salads here at EMU.
Salads can be purchased in 3 different places on campus. The most environmentally healthy way is at the salad bar in the Commons, where you put it into a reusable bowl, thus eliminating the use of plastic containers. Then, the second most environmentally healthy option: getting a salad in the Eateries. In this case, you put the salad and all of its toppings into a plastic container, eliminating the use of more plastic for any potential croutons/dressing. The last option is in the Eagle Cafés, where the salad container, dressing package, and crouton package are all plastic. Most students don’t have time to eat at the Commons, so they grab something quickly in the Eateries/Cafés. I get a salad everyday in the Eateries, and I feel horrible about the absurdly large plastic container I put my salad into. If I’m doing this, so are other students. The salad bar is constantly being utilized and constantly needing refilling in the Eateries. I’ve even encountered the Eagle Cafés running out of salads before.
We are using plastic here at EMU at an alarmingly fast rate via salad containers. And remember, this isn’t even including the rest of the usual packaging that accompanies the plastic container. (Or the foam cups we use in the Cafés for soup..but that’s a topic for another day.)
So, what can we do?
I talked about this briefly in one of my previous blog posts, not knowing it would come into play now. The answer is simple: reusable plastic containers. I had come up with this solution in that previous blog post, and I was happy to see in our reading that different college campuses across the US have employed this method. I researched a little bit, and I found a wholesale supplier that sells reusable, microwaveable, airtight food containers for $0.3-0.5 per piece. The minimum order quantity is 5,000 containers, which equals out to a cost of $1500-2500. Truly, that is not much to potentially save our campus and it’s surrounding environment. According to Eastern’s web page, about 2,600 freshman entered this year. Adding simply $1 to each freshman’s new student fees would create a profit of $2600- enough to cover the cost of these containers. This would supply the university with 5,000 containers- which is more than enough since they’re reusable.
Additionally, there will have to be a machine that students return the containers to. They can’t keep them forever! There are such machines like the OZZI (which is being used right now at the University of Maryland, the University of California Merced, and Tulane University). I couldn’t get an exact quote on this machine because each is tailored to the specific university’s needs.
However, how do we keep these containers clean, once they’re returned through a machine like the OZZI? Again, a simple answer: wash them like we do all the bowls/plates/silverware/cups in the Commons!
It really is a simple, feasible solution!