Change in dining hall containers promotes sustainability

Recently, Guilford’s dining hall has transitioned away from using disposable containers and silverware. Students can now purchase reusable containers for $5 in lieu of the styrofoam containers that were previously available.

Director of Dining Services Zeb Knight said that the change was made “in collaboration with Guilford leadership.” 

He explained that the change had been based on “the fact that we’ve moved the campus to a fully vaccinated campus, the positivity rates from recent campus testing and (for) sustainability reasons… We were purchasing and contributing so much foam to the landfill.” 

According to records provided by Knight to The Guilfordian, the dining hall and Grill combined were using approximately 2,000 foam containers a week. 

Because of these factors, the dining Hall felt like “it was the right time to make the transition back and start encouraging… that sense of community again.”

When speaking about the changes the pandemic brought to the dining hall, Knight said: “We managed and we did well. We were open for the full year, which was great.” 

However, there were some unexpected challenges.

“We had to come up with a plan for feeding quarantined and isolated students, which is something you never really think about,” Knight said.

Knight also talked about the changes that were likely to stay in place, such as more frequent sanitization and utensil swapping.

He also mentioned the reusable to-go containers, which, “prior to COVID… probably only sold about 50 or 60… now we’ve got hundreds of those out there. So I think that’s really going to help from the sustainability aspect here on campus.” 

Finally, he expressed his appreciation that the dining hall had been able to swap back to self-service, and stated that he is looking forward to “when we can get back to what I call full operation,” which includes bringing back an action and omelette station, as well as holding events inside and outside of the dining hall.

Guilford senior Juliana Hubbard and junior Emma English had some thoughts on the changes. English says that she is “really excited about” the changes.

“I’m a TA for the Principled Problem Solving Scholars program, and I’m working with this group that’s focusing on saving the planet, so they have to create a project about environmentalism and about making their community more sustainable…,” English said. “That’s one of the biggest talking points that they had, how much waste is being generated from the dining hall on a daily basis… and so, making that change was really positive, and they all got really excited about it because it’s been something they’ve been really advocating for and worried about.”

Hubbard said that she felt students continued to eat out after dine-in options became available because of the dining hall’s hours.

“It works generally for most people, but some people are really busy and they don’t have time to go in and sit down for a meal,” Hubbard said. “So, having a to-go option is helpful, and now that it’s a sustainable to-go option I think more people will be willing to get to-go and continue to get to-go when they can’t sit in.”

When asked about the price of the containers, English felt that it was reasonable. 

“It’s a $5 fee, but you can use your student bucks (money provided by meal plans that can be used at the Grill or Rachel’s Rose Cottage, which is tied to your ID) for it,” English said.

Hubbard agreed, saying that “letting it come out of your student budget is really helpful, you don’t have to pay for it out of pocket,” and that “it makes it seem more like a Guilford option, and not something you have to go out of your way to be able to do.”

Finally, English felt that the dining hall and Guilford at large had done a good job protecting students, saying that “the dining hall has been doing the best that they can.” 

She also felt like the waste generated was the result of a “temporary solution” that wasn’t expected to last as long as it did.

Hubbard added that she appreciated how the cafeteria had been rearranged into single tables instead of longer ones. 

Overall, the change to reusable containers seems to be well-received, and it will hopefully be a sign of positive dining hall changes to come as we gradually approach the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.