University introduces biodegradable plates to J Street, West Hall

Students dining at Sodexo-run facilities on campus this year will be eating meals on environmentally friendly products, including biodegradable plates and napkins made from recycled paper.

Based on feedback from the University’s Food Working Group, the styrene and plastic plates used in the past were replaced by products made of reusable materials such as bamboo and sugarcane.

In addition to being biodegradable, the new plates do not require petroleum to produce unlike those made of styrene and plastic, making them more environmentally friendly, said Sophie Waskow, the stakeholder engagement coordinator in the Office of Sustainability.

“The University currently incinerates all trash from dining facilities, and burning a cleaner product is better for the environment,” Waskow said in an e-mail.

“It is our hope that in the future we will compost these products, thus taking full advantage of their composition,” said Waskow, a member of the Food Working Group.

The Food Working Group was created last spring to discuss food issues at J Street and other Sodexo facilities. Members of the group include GW faculty, staff and students, as well as representatives from Sodexo.

After several months of assessing and testing product types, the University decided to switch to the new plates and containers.

While there was no immediate cost savings from making the product switch, Waskow said that because the new products weigh less, the University could potentially pay less in weight-based waste-removal fees.

In addition to using the new plates, Waskow said it is important to continually encourage students to be mindful of the products they use while eating, using the clamshell take-out containers only when necessary.

“Even though the products are made from renewable resources, it is still important to reduce consumption and waste on campus,” she said.

Sophomore Jung Yoon said the University is taking a step in the right direction by using biodegradable plates.

“It sends a very good message, a strong message, not only to GW students, but also to the surrounding community, including alumni,” Yoon said.

Freshman Saori Ishihara said while the new products will help, the University still has work to do on its sustainability goals.

“They are focusing on sustainability, but there are people still wasting energy by leaving the lights on all night, for example,” Ishihara said.

In addition to the new products, Pelham Commons – the dining facility in West Hall – also uses reusable plates and utensils for dine-in customers. Composting is also practiced at West Hall, which the Food Working Group hopes to expand.

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