Written by Lainee Ross
Auburn students and faculty may have noticed something missing on campus this semester: Styrofoam cups.
The Office of Sustainability and Tiger Dining have been working to make Auburn a Styrofoam-free campus, and at the end of the summer, Styrofoam was eliminated from private vendors on campus.
"We want to make dining on campus more sustainable," Glenn Loughridge, director of Campus Dining, said.
Tiger Dining, which consists of Campus Dining and the private contractor, Chartwells, meets regularly with the Office of Sustainability about how to establish a sustainable dining experience on campus.
"We researched the cost first and saw it was possible to become a Styrofoam-free campus. Now private vendors such as Chick-fil-A have a paper cup available for students," Senior Executive Chef of Auburn University Emil Topel said.
Michael Kensler, director of Campus Sustainability, agreed with Topel.
"The willingness of Tiger Dining to absorb the cost to remove Styrofoam from campus says a lot about its commitment to sustainability. When all costs of Styrofoam to public health and the environment are included, the benefits of this move far outweigh the costs," Kensler said.
The cost of moving from Styrofoam products to paper products will amount to only $5,000 per year, according to Topel. The move from Styrofoam to paper will not change student dining plans or costs of meals for private vendors on campus.
Paper waste breaks down into mulch and other useful alternatives, but Styrofoam does not break down completely. In addition, Styrofoam does not break down in a trash bin as well as paper does, causing a need to use more trash bags for waste.
"Once you recycle paper, it goes from waste to a resource. If we don't recycle, then we are just actively being wasteful," Kensler said. "By eliminating waste, landfills don't get full as fast, which is good because there is no such thing as a safe landfill."
Kensler encourages students and staff to throw their waste into the appropriately labeled bins around campus.
"It's all about behavior. A lot of organizations have committed to zero waste, and that's where we want to go."
Becoming a Styrofoam-free campus is simply one way Auburn is becoming a more sustainable campus, according to Loughridge. Campus Kitchens works closely with Tiger Dining to use the uneaten food from dining operations on campus to feed people who are food insecure in the local community.
"Composting is secondary to feeding people," Loughridge said. "If we can recycle or compost waste, that's better than throwing it in the trash, but ultimately our highest purpose is feeding hungry people."
Tiger Dining and the Office of Sustainability ask students for their participation in the efforts of making Auburn a more sustainable campus.
"We are able to provide more recycling options, but we also want to eliminate waste in the first place," Loughridge added. "Auburn is a unique campus, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. We are committed to working with students to become more sustainable in our dining operations."