Mishawaka, IN—Recently, you may have noticed bright green boxes being carried by students walking across campus; they are the new reusable to-go containers for the Dining Commons. You may even be confused since last semester Bethel was still using the old disposable Styrofoam containers. So, why the change? Weren’t those doing the job? In a sense, yes, there was nothing wrong with how they held food; and yet, something was still off.
If you have been watching the news lately, you have likely been bombarded with propaganda from both sides of the environmental debate. I often get frustrated at the sheer quantity of messages hurled at us as consumers. Growing up in a very conservative community myself, my initial inclination is to discredit the proponents of environmental consideration and climate change; however, being a science major here at Bethel, I have been able to study the world with educated eyes and I see that we have a problem.
What does this have to do with how students ate getting food-to-go? For the past year or so, Jim Metherd, the head of food services, has been trying to find a way to reduce the trash waste and the expenditure the dining commons generates. This past year, I was able to work in the dining commons and had the opportunity to personally work with him to bring about a positive change. This change, although potentially less convenient at times, massively reduces the plastic waste Bethel produces; additionally, it saves thousands of dollars each semester by not having to buy new disposable containers on a continual basis.
I was very excited to see how the campus responded to the initial push for the reusable containers. When trying to obtain signatures, the student body far surpassed the response I had hoped. This was instrumental in making the change, but it also made me think. If most of the students and faculty were so positive about this change, what other areas could we improve? How was Bethel doing in other areas? What were we doing well? What could we maybe do better?
Dr. Katie Weakland, Associate Professor of Biology and a staunch lover of the environment, was quite pleased with the switch. When I asked her about other areas where Bethel did well, she was quick to respond by saying Bethel minimizes paper waste effectively. Digitizing courses and classwork with Canvas has considerably reduced paper consumption and waste. The paper consumption that does occur is mitigated by the recycling the professors do themselves.
I asked Weakland about what we could be doing better and about possible next steps.
“We need to compost,” Weakland said. “There is no reason for food to go into the trash.”
Composting, though it seems odd, would provide nutrient-dense soil for landscaping projects and for Bethel’s gardens. It might even provide a source of income in future years because compost soil can be sold.
Weakland also believes Bethel can do more to improve their recycling.
“All aluminum and steel cans should be recycled,” Weakland said. “There is no point in throwing them away when they can be recycled or reused.”
As a student, some of these changes may seem unnecessary or difficult to accomplish because we don’t control much of the recycling or disposal options on campus. However, we were able to come together and change how Bethel offered food-to-go; we made our campus more eco-friendly together. What stops us from taking the next steps? What stops us from not only making Bethel green through reusable food containers but also bettering the world around us?