When hunger gets the best of Harvey Mudd College (HMC) diners, the last thing they’re likely mulling over is the material their to-go box or dessert plate is made of.
But HMC’s Dining Services actually considers this an important “green” matter; since 2006, it has worked to ensure that the college’s dessert plates and to-go boxes, eating utensils, cups and lids are all made of biodegradable materials.
In the spirit of sustainability, HMC was the first of the five Claremont Colleges to begin using biodegradable to-go products. In fact, all of the Claremont Colleges are now using biodegradable products in one form or another.
The use of such products has increased significantly among college food programs in general as well.
HMC’s utensils, often referred to as “spudwear,” are made of a durable potato-starch-and-soy-oil material; its cups and lids are made of corn starch; and the dessert plates and to-go containers are composed of a recycled cardboard material.
When the idea of using biodegradable dining products originated a few years back, dining services staff researched various items, compared costs and presented the products to HMC students, who made the final call on what would be used.
The team effort has paid off tremendously for the environment.
On top of that, HMC now practices trayless dining, which reduces the amount of food waste and water normally used to wash the trays by as much as 30 percent per person. (Trays are still available upon request for diners who may need one).
"It was considered that removing trays would result in some inconvenience," explains Andrew Dorantes, HMC's vice president for administration and finance/treasurer. "However, in the end, the decision was made to eliminate most trays given the positive environmental and economic impact. In these tough economic times, we are trying to reduce our costs. It is our goal that minor changes like these may help us avoid more severe budget reduction measures employed by other colleges and universities."
A growing trend on college campuses across the nation, trayless dining began at Pitzer College during the 2008-09 school year; Scripps College eliminated trays beginning in the spring 2009 semester. The other Claremont Colleges plan to incorporate trayless dining as well in the summer or fall of 2009.
According to a recent New York Times article on trayless dining, "the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a research organization that tracks environmental practices at the 300 colleges and universities with the largest endowments, said that 126 of them had curtailed use of trays."
HMC's Dining Services also uses a dishwashing system that helps reduce its environmental impact through the system’s increased efficiency. The Ecolab Apex dishwashing system combines technology and products designed to save water and energy as well as minimize the impact on the environment. The system uses non-caustic chemistry and 95 percent less packaging material than prior methods. The results prove that little change really does add up. The system contributes to an estimated annual savings of more than 2,244 gallons of water, 1,133 kilowatt-hours of energy, and 1,418 pounds of chemical and packaging waste.
And more “green” ideas are in the works, including a possible HMC composting program, which dining staff and students are looking into.