Mason Dining takes steps to improve sustainability

Mason Dining is offering reusable food containers to improve campus sustainability (photo courtesy of Nicole Lewis).
Mason Dining is offering reusable food containers to improve campus sustainability (photo courtesy of Nicole Lewis).

As interest in sustainability increases on campus, Mason Dining has expanded some of its projects to reduce the impact of food services on the environment.

Within the next few months, Mason Dining will begin offering a reusable container called “Choose to Reuse” as a more sustainable alternative to the current disposable boxes used in places like the Johnson Center and the Pilot House.

“The idea is to decrease the numbers of disposable containers that the campus uses, and thus reduce our environmental impact,” said Ben McElhaney, Mason Dining’s first sustainability coordinator hired in January 2012.

According to McElhaney, over the past year there have been many efforts by the university’s dining services to be sustainable. He said that the projects usually focus on purchasing local produce, using more recyclable products, encouraging recycling and offering reusable replacements for disposable products.

To assist McElhaney in promoting Mason Dining’s sustainability efforts, Mason Dining hired three student sustainability promotions coordinators in September. Senior Andrea Griffith said she took the position because she is minoring in sustainability and wanted to put her classroom knowledge to use. Griffith also assists with Mason Dining’s sustainability events.

Mason Dining also hosted two farmer’s markets this semester on the Fairfax campus to highlight the sustainability in purchasing local produce. They also began a partnership with the Mason Organic Gardening Association, which manages the Potomac Heights organic garden and Sprouts in the Johnson Center.

“Although growing season is almost over, our partnership will provide fresh organic items for use in Sprouts starting next semester,” McElhaney said.

In addition to purchasing local and organic foods, Mason Dining eliminated all Styrofoam containers available to customers at all their dining locations and replaced them with plastic containers. According to McElhaney, Mason uses over 500,000 disposable containers a year, and when Styrofoam was offered, it was not recycled properly. McElhaney said that Styrofoam can only be accepted at recycling plants if it is clean, but plastics can be recycled with a low level of contamination.

Scattered around campus are commingled recycling receptacles in which recyclables are categorized, making the recycling process more efficient. According to McElhaney, all of the plastics offered by Mason Dining are recyclable in these receptacles, which accept plastics one through seven. He said he would not have brought a plastic to replace foam if it couldn’t be recycled.

According to McElhaney, Mason Dining plans to work with AEGreen, Mason’s Office of Recycling and Waste Management and Mason’s Office of Sustainability on education and marketing of recycling efforts across campus.

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