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ASU advances sustainable dining during pandemic with reusables, compostables

Tooker House dining hall
October 29, 2020

Early in the pandemic, staying safe and healthy for many meant adopting a disposable lifestyle: using plastic bags at the grocery store, ordering to-go or delivery from local restaurants and drinking from plastic water bottles. 

After learning more about the virus and how it mainly spreads, businesses began to reopen and focus on limiting person-to-person contact through physical distancing and face coverings.

Due to government-mandated efforts to minimize the COVID-19 spread, ASU, via Sun Devil Dining, has temporarily moved to takeout service only, in addition to deploying enhanced sanitizing procedures. To-go meals are among the many ways ASU aims to support guests’ heightened focus on safety and make them feel comfortable when dining on campus. However, to-go meals have led to a rise in the use of disposable containers. To combat this, Sun Devil Dining now offers reusable to-go containers. 

“By Sun Devil Dining providing environmentally preferable to-go containers, it reduces waste, conserves resources and materials, elevates education and awareness of disposable products use, and promotes more responsible personal, lifetime habits,” said Krista O’Brien, sustainability manager for Aramark at ASU. “Reusable containers can be used hundreds of times, meaning the upstream resources are ultimately much lower over the life cycle of the product. Moreover, reusable containers prevent the creation of more waste.” 

According to ASU’s Zero Waste department, if every student living on the Tempe campus used the reusable to-go container for all three daily meals, it would prevent 5,712 pounds from going to the landfill each day (based on current usage). Waste reduction on other campuses would include 641.6 pounds at downtown Phoenix, 528.8 pounds at Polytechnic, and 271.2 at West.

Even though reusables are more sustainable, they do not work for everyone all the time, especially with the convenience and volume of an “all-you-care-to-eat” dining hall. As such, compostable to-go containers also are available if students need an additional container. 

With to-go containers being given out in the transition to takeout service, there has been an increase in waste volume. To address this, ASU has expanded its composting service. Compostable to-go containers are being used as a secondary sustainable to-go option. Diners may compost the containers at the Memorial Union and Hassayampa dining facilities with 18 new dual compost-recycle litter bins. 

Visit Sun Devil Dining to learn more about campus dining.

Top photo: Aerospace junior Jalen Goode (right) receives a hot meal in his resuable to-go container from executive chef Les Haydenreich of ASU Catering at Tooker House Dining Hall on July 27, 2020. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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