In an attempt to cut back on waste, Dining Services introduced Gustieware this past fall. Serving as an alternative to the cardboard carryout containers already offered, Gustieware is available in the Market Place for community members to take, fill with food and return for dishwashing. The containers are then reused. The program is believed to be the first of its kind and has received national attention.
“I think it is a huge success in the reduction of cardboard containers. [We have used] less than half [of what] we did last year at this same time. To date, through January, we have used about 30,000 less [containers] than we did last year,” said Director of Dining Service Steve Kjellgren.
By the end of the school year, Kjellgren believes Gustavus may use 120,000 fewer cardboard containers than it did last year. Due to the fact that carryout is a more popular option during the spring semester.
Many students like the program. “I like it a lot better than the paper stuff, and it’s a lot better for the environment,” said Sophomore English Major Audrey Neal.
While the program has been largely successful, Dining Services has had some trouble getting the containers back. “At any one time, we have between 50 and 300 in this building, so 2,700 of them are out there. Whether we will ever get those 2,700 back, I don’t know. I don’t know if we bought 3,000 more, if we would then have 3,300 here, or whether we would … still only have 300,” said Kjellgren.
Some students have made returning Gustieware a habit. “I always bring it back,” said Sophomore Kate Ibberson. “I don’t understand why it is so difficult,”
Kjellgren believes that the community is doing a better job returning containers than earlier this year. He is not getting reports of Gustieware being found in the trash, as he did when the program was first implemented. “I think that there is a learning curve. This is new for all four classes this year. I am confident that [returning Gustieware] will just become part of our culture here,” said Kjellgren.
Kjellgren also said that students are not the only ones who do not always bring containers back in a timely fashion. “I had a custodian stop and say, ‘You know, I don’t mind bringing them back from academic buildings if I see them or in the residence halls, but I draw the line at the [administration] building. If they are piled up in those people’s offices, I am not bringing them back for them. They are grown-ups. They should be more thoughtful than that,’” said Kjellgren.
Some people have suggested that either a deposit or collection system be implemented to help make sure Gustieware is returned. “If they just put containers in every section, then it wouldn’t be a problem,” said First-year Jake Albrecht.
Dining Services currently operates Gustieware collection containers in the library, in cooperation with the custodial staff. Kjellgren does not believe that Dining Services should have to pick up containers from places like residence halls, however. “[If you] borrow a screwdriver from your neighbor, you don’t wait for him to come and ask you for it; you bring it back when you are finished with it,” said Kjellgren.
Dining Services decided against implementing a deposit system. “We considered … [the idea of] a deposit … but then we [would] have to have a return area somewhere, not at a cash register. The logistics of that didn’t work,” said Kjellgren.
The other option for students is to buy one of the cardboard carryout boxes. “If it is too much of a bother for you to bring it back, then you will have to buy a box. You are making choices, and we are giving you choices,” said Kjellgren.
While community members are given the choice to buy cardboard boxes, such boxes cost more than they did last year. “We used to charge just a break-even cost. We heard from students that [the price was] not enough disincentive,” said Kjellgren.
In addition to the buzz on campus, the program has also drawn a lot of attention to the college from other institutions. “The eyes are on us, and that I think is really cool. Nobody is doing this, but they all want to do it because it is the right thing to do,” said Kjellgren.
Kjellgren has heard from food service staff at other institutions who are interested in the program, including staff at Dartmouth College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State College, Augustana College (Rock Island, IL), Saint Mary’s Hospital (Duluth, MN), The United States Air Force Base in Clear, Alaska, an insurance company in Tennessee and the City of Toronto, Canada.
Many of these institutions have plans to start a similar program soon, if they have not already done so. Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) plans to begin offering plastic carryout next fall. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State College plans to do the same once it works out some concerns with their health department.
Saint Mary’s Hospital (Duluth, MN) started a similar program in January.
While many colleges could cut back on cardboard container consumption by using plastic containers, Kjellgren said many colleges similar to Gustavus would not benefit from a similar program as much as we have here, due to the way their meal plans are structured. “The vast majority of colleges do not have the problem to the extent we do because they do not have an à la cart meal plan. They have the ‘all-you-can-eat in the dining room’ plan,” said Kjellgren.
Kjellgren also said that the program may not work well at colleges and universities with large student bodies or at institutions with a large population of students who reside off campus, but that it works well on small enclosed campuses like Gustavus.
When the Market Place was redesigned in the mid-1990s, Kjellgren tried to respond to student requests for equity (in charges for students eating different amounts of food), longer hours and waste reduction. The à la carte system was implemented at that time. Because students are allowed to take food out of the Market Place at Gustavus, takeout containers were needed.
In addition to the use on campus and the interest from other institutions, the Admissions Office is now purchasing Gustieware to use to thank high school admissions counselors.
“We wanted to … come up with some kind of an appreciation gift that we could give to high school counselors as we visit their high schools, sort of in recognition of all that they do to help us. We said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be neat if we took the little Gustieware containers and filled it with some fun little gifts and gave it as [an] appreciation message, but at the same time it gets out the message about Gustavus’ commitment to a greener campus,’” said Associate Director of Admission Megan Coe.
Overall, Kjellgren is very pleased with the Gustieware program being used on campus, to market the college and as national model for sustainability. “When those other colleges or places call and ask, I say, ‘You know it’s going really [well]. Compliance … isn’t where it needs to be, but I think we are getting there.’ … I think that Gustavus students should be proud to be a part of this,” said Kjellgren.