Going green in Ham
New College students want to go green. In the past four years, New College students and the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) have begun a bike-share program to improve green transportation accessibility, started multiple community gardens, begun a school-wide composting program, and started a food forest. In late 2015, thanks to efforts from members of the Committee for Green Affairs (CGA), the school received a ‘green business’ certification from the county of Sarasota.
But going green takes a coordinated effort. Ham cafeteria is one of the largest projects, and one of the most important place to start. Food waste and garbage are national problems – according to NPR, in 2012 Americans discarded 35 million tons of food. The Food Recovery Network reports that college campuses alone throw out 22 million pounds of food each year. Although there is no shortage of programs the CGA and Metz have attempted to install to reduce green waste, many have been met with setbacks.
A 2011 Towne Meeting resolution to ban the sale of water bottles was honored by former food contractor Sodexo. But when Metz moved in, the resolution was not continued. Although CGA members met with Metz to discuss reinstituting the ban, they were unsuccessful – it turns out bottled water sells too well in Ham to pull them from the shelves. “Dasani water bottles are probably our number one bottled product,” Metz Manager Bill Moore said.
Second-year, Vice President of Green Affairs, and chair of the CGA Adilyne McKinlay has had a hand in many of the green initiatives taking place across campus and in Ham. She has also had to send multiple e-mails to the student body, begging for the return of Ham plates and utensils. In mid-February McKinlay announced that over 500 plates, and nearly 700 forks, were missing from Ham. During the 2015-2016 school year, Moore has spent over $3,500 in plates, each ringing up at approximately $7, for a total of over 1,100 plates. Only 37 are left. Out of over 1000 plastic cups, only 13 are left.
Following several unsuccessful attempts to bring plates back to the cafeteria, McKinlay and Moore announced the beginning of a 50-cent charge on paper plates in Ham, in order to recoup the cost of plates being stolen, to avoid bringing in styrofoam plates which, while cheaper, are less biodegradable, and to try to deter students from further stealing plates.
“The real problem comes down to, we talk about how green we are, but it doesn’t show in the actions,” Moore said. Despite the multitude of recycling containers available in and around Ham, Moore still reports seeing multiple newspapers that end up in garbage cans rather than a recycling container. “It becomes disheartening,” he said. “I’m not thinking about the cost of plates. I’m thinking about the damage we’re doing to our earth, and what we are leaving for future generations.”
Metz has independently put several initiatives in place in order to reduce waste. “We have asked Metz to see if they can purchase more food from local farmers,” McKinlay said. “The company tries to get all of their produce from within a 100-mile radius.” Although keeping food local is not always possible – McKinlay acknowledges that some foods still end up coming from as far as the coast of California – Moore attempts to stick to local produce whenever possible. “A lot of the juice products we get, that is sourced right here in Sarasota,” Moore said. “We’re looking at honey that is locally sourced. A lot of our breads are baked right here in Sarasota. Same with the danishes.”
The corporation has independently been pushing for humanely treated beef and pork, and Metz on campus has made the switch to cage-free eggs, which Metz tries “to get as local as possible”, Moore said.
“They’re encouraging people to try different foods and step out of the comfort zone,” McKinlay said. “Which ties back to the fact that they’re trying to make more sustainably-sourced meals.”
Other green initiatives include the selling of reusable containers and water bottles to students who want to carry their food out regularly, saving on paper plates and deterring the theft of ceramic plates. Students who buy the $10 food containers can pay with Ham points, and have the option of returning the containers at the end of the year for a gift-card refund. According to Moore, 47 students have purchased the food containers, and approximately 150 have purchased the cups.
The CGA has been doing its part to attempt to bring green initiatives to Ham as well. An allocation for a plastic bag recycling receptacle has been put forward and is expected to be approved and installed by fall. First-year Allegra Nolan was recently hired to the brand new Zero Waste TA position, which is designed to help coordinate campus-wide efforts to reduce waste, and the CGA is currently attempting to fill another new position that was recently approved, the Residential Gardening TA.
Another of Metz’s initiatives have been Meatless Mondays, which “the CGA does wholly support,” McKinlay noted. Although Meatless Monday is not literal – meat is still available on Mondays in Ham – the program does push and prioritize meat-free meals in an effort to promote sustainable eating initiatives. Moore notes that despite the availability of meat on Mondays, some students had complaints about the initiative. “We’ve had students yelling at us about it,” Moore admits.
Despite opposition to meat-free movements, going vegan does carry many environmental benefits, and at least in that category, New College is doing well. Moore estimates, based on numbers reported by both Metz and Four Winds, that about 10 percent of the student population is vegan. “Our school is very different from other schools,” Moore said. “Other colleges, they have almost no vegan population. I think percentage-wise, we have a higher population [of vegans] here than any other college that we serve.”
Metz also makes a point of reducing food waste as much as possible. Ham cafeteria employees use a batch-cooking system, in which food is cooked throughout meals as needed. “Sometimes you’ll go into the cafeteria and have to wait on something,” Moore said. “It’s because we’re cooking it in batches so not a lot of food gets thrown away. And what we try to do,” Moore added, “is if there is food left over, utilize it into something else.” Metz employees weigh post-consumer waste in order to calculate how much food is moving, and Moore reports that “it is very limited.”
Other, smaller programs are in the works. Moore wants to begin a regular farmer’s market next semester, as well as bring reusable bags into the C-store to reduce plastic bag usage. Employees have been asked to check with students before offering them a plastic bag, as well, to limit their usage to ‘as-needed’.
Students haven’t always gone along with green initiatives. Bottled water, and bottled drinks in general, still fly off the shelves. Recycling is done haphazardly, or not at all, in many public spaces. But going green is a slow movement, and New College is getting there. “A lot of meat-eaters have been enjoying the vegan dishes,” Moore pointed out. “They’re getting better.”