5C sustainability efforts challenged by evolving COVID-19 protocols

(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

As bins pile high with single-use takeout containers and disposable masks are littered across campus quads, new sustainability efforts at the Claremont Colleges are attempting to combat challenges brought on by COVID-19 protocols and modifications.

In an attempt to encourage outdoor dining and social distancing, the 5Cs are adjusting in student spaces like dining halls, with new takeout container options available at mealtimes.

Pitzer College dining hall manager Tonian Morbitt said in an email they initially planned to charge students for single-use to-go boxes to encourage them to choose reusable boxes instead.

“Some students did not feel safe utilizing reusable containers, and we have now ceased to charge for disposables,” he said.

Pitzer also purchased extra outdoor tables and chairs to encourage students to eat outside. It’s also continuing its recycling and compost programs.

“We also donate any excess leftovers to Chefs to End Hunger, though we have not needed to do that so far this semester,” Morbitt said.

According to Morbitt, students will be allowed to start using chinaware plates and utensils outside of the dining hall in the coming weeks, which will cut down on the waste produced from takeout containers. 

“Environmental sustainability is one of Pitzer’s five core values, and our students make considerable efforts to reduce single-use waste,” Morbitt said. 

Harvey Mudd College has allowed chinaware plates and utensils for indoor dining since the beginning of the semester. When taking food to go, students can request either a reusable GreenBox or a disposable takeout box. Only Harvey Mudd students and DSA staff who live on campus are allowed into the dining hall for the fall semester, according to the college’s website. All others have some meal options available at the cafe but seating is not available.

Scripps College, however, is not using chinaware plates and reusable utensils in Malott Commons at this time. According to the dining hall website, students are only allowed to use compostable BioWare cutlery and dishes. The fee for disposables has been waived at this time.

Similarly, outdoor dining is strongly encouraged and compostable containers are available at Claremont McKenna’s Collins Dining Hall, CMC Food Recovery Network President Marcus Lindsay CM ’23 said via email.

According to Lindsay, reusable boxes are not yet available but occasionally non-reusable plastic takeout containers are used when compostable ones run out “as a last resort.”

Despite changes to dining hall procedures this semester, CMC’s FRN is still planning to start donating leftover food from Collins to food shelters around Pomona Valley as usual. 

“The last year that FRN was on campus, we were able to recover 2.5k pounds of would-be wasted food (roughly 3k meals). This was already impressive, but now that our club membership has tripled, we hope to more than double this number,” Lindsay said. “Collins has been more than accommodating in helping us pull this new milestone off.”

According to Lindsay, the club worked with students to coordinate a Move Out For Hunger event planned for the weeks leading up to winter break in order to save leftover non-perishable snacks and drinks from the residence halls. 

“Each semester, much of these unconsumed goods go to waste, but FRN hopes to recover these much in the same way that we distribute the leftover dining hall food,” they said.

CMC is hosting an “Eat Local Challenge 2021” meal on Sept. 21 with food made entirely from sources within 150 miles. 

Pomona College has also recently resumed its GreenBox program, in which students can check out a reusable box to fill with food and take to-go. Students can then return boxes to either Frank or Frary Dining Hall.

According to Alexis Reyes, assistant director of sustainability at Pomona’s Sustainability Integration Office, the GreenBox program has been revitalized with new branding and messaging this semester in an attempt to get more students to return and reuse their boxes, cutting down on waste. In the past, many boxes didn’t get returned and were thrown away, she said via email. 

“We identified that waste was going to be our major obstacle with reopening the campus sustainably because of the increase in single-use items,” Reyes said.

Reyes said that all single-use items are compostable and that the dining halls worked with the City of Claremont to approve the items getting composted through Athens Waste Management, their vendor. 

“We also used this strategy to make our first major event of the year, convocation, zero waste where all of the boxed lunches were compostable for the 1,000 attendees,” Reyes said. 

According to Reyes, the other big sustainability challenge during COVID has been the abandonment of single-use masks. 

“Masks are small and can easily be dropped and forgotten. This is disproportionately affecting the grounds and housekeeping staff who keep our campus clean,” Reyes said. “I’m working with the Staff Council to create messaging about being mindful of your mask and if you’re ready to dispose of it, reminding people to cut the straps so that it doesn’t entangle wildlife or landfill mechanical equipment.”

“Masks are small and can easily be dropped and forgotten. This is disproportionately affecting the grounds and housekeeping staff who keep our campus clean.” — Alexis Reyes

Students are workshopping new sustainability initiatives as well. Sara Anderson PO ’23, the Pomona sustainability office’s outreach and sustainability coordinator, said she’s planning on implementing a program called Mindful Monday in the Pomona dining halls starting Sept. 20.

“[Mindful Monday is] a sustainable dining initiative that celebrates the cultural authenticity and sustainability of plant-based meals every Monday,” she said in an email. 

However, Anderson said that getting the programs running in the dining halls has been hampered by staffing issues.

“Dining has started off this semester severely understaffed which has placed them in survival mode. Therefore, the implementation is a little bumpy because the managers of the dining halls have been quite busy,” she said.

In addition to sustainable dining hall reforms, Pomona is also bringing back its yard sale. Pomona’s ReCoop event, which usually occurs during New Student Orientation, has been rescheduled for Sept. 18. ReCoop will take place in the parking lot behind Mudd-Blaisdell and Gibson Halls. Along with donated items, unwanted dorm items left behind in spring 2020 will be sold at a discounted price, according to Anderson.

Anderson said that Pomona’s administration has been supportive in the sustainability initiatives she has been working on for this semester. 

“Making Pomona a safe space for college students to garner their interests in sustainability is a big goal for me,” she said. “Pomona’s admin, specifically those involved in PACS, and those in Dining Services, have been very supportive of my research and my work at the Sustainability Office over the pandemic.”

“Making Pomona a safe space for college students to garner their interests in sustainability is a big goal for me.” — Sara Anderson PO ’23

Founded after the model of ReCoop, Scripps sponsors Scripps Scrapps, a program that collects unwanted items in the spring and sells them in the fall. However, the usual fall sale has not been approved by the administration, Scripps Scrapps founders Amalia Barrett SC ’21 and Caroline Wofford SC ’21 said.

Following the pandemic-enforced move-out in spring 2020, Barrett and Wofford collected used items from students and kept them in a storage facility which they paid for with their own funds. Barrett said they were not allowed access to the administration-operated Scripps Scrapps budget. 

When they moved back into an apartment near campus in fall 2020, they transferred the items to the garage of their apartment. Eventually, when Barrett and Wofford graduated, the items went back into a storage unit, this time paid for by the Scripps Scrapps budget, which they bolstered with a mutual aid fundraiser within the Scripps community. 

Barrett and Wofford expressed disappointment at the lack of assistance and communication from administrators during the pandemic. They said that Scripps is not running the Scripps Scrapps this year despite having lots of items available and students who are willing to work the sale.

“[Allowing Scripps Scrapps] is something that would help everyone, it’s a universal good, as we’ve been able to see,” Barrett said. “It makes [the] admin look good, it makes staff not have to deal with all of our [stuff], it makes students accountable and it makes items accessible to students who might not have them otherwise.”

Scripps did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

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