NSO’s Zero-Waste Lunch reduces its waste this year

Sept. 20, 2015, 11:27 p.m.
A staff member from the Office of Sustainability talks with students after they disposed of their lunch waste in the compost bins. Staffers dressed up in costumes and held signs to raise awareness about composting.
A staff member from the Office of Sustainability talks with students after they disposed of their lunch waste in the compost bins. Staffers dressed up in costumes and held signs to raise awareness about composting. (EMMA JOHANNINGSMEIER/The Stanford Daily)

In previous years, the educational Zero-Waste Lunch, designed to introduce freshmen to on-campus sustainability during NSO, did not always live up to its name. Confused students sometimes threw lunch packaging into landfill receptacles, and some threw away food they were given but didn’t want.

This year, organizers addressed these issues by implementing changes to the event, held Wednesday on Lomita Mall west of the Main Quad. Rather than receiving a boxed lunch, students were offered compostable plastic bags, then filed past food tables and took only the items they wanted.

“We think that’s going to create a lot less waste,” said Julie Muir, the Zero-Waste Program Manager for Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc., Stanford’s waste management contractor.

All the food packaging at the lunch was compostable, including the corn-based plastic utensils. In addition, instead of using compostable eight-ounce plastic cups as in the past, students were given free, reusable Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) tumblers.

“I think we’ve really hit the best year ever,” Muir said.

On the menu were sandwiches, cups of quinoa salad, apples and chocolate chip cookies. All students asked said they were happy with the lunch. Some said they had not tried the quinoa, but others tried it for the first time and liked it.

“I was sort of skeptical about it, but it’s actually pretty good,” said Pablo Absalon ’19.

“The spoon’s a nice touch,” he added, referring to the small fold-it-yourself paper spoon students were given to use for the quinoa.

Staff from the Office of Sustainability dressed up in costumes for the event – most of them different types of produce. As students proceeded through the lunch lines, the staff held up signs and called out information about composting.

Before arriving on campus, the Class of 2019 was provided with an online booklet called the Student Sustainable Living Guide, according to Fahmida Ahmed, director of the Office of Sustainability. Produced by Ahmed’s office and Residential & Dining Enterprises, the 24-page booklet is full of statistics, information about Stanford’s water and energy use and tips for students on how to reduce their environmental impact.

“The typical red plastic party cup is not recyclable and takes 450 years to decompose!” the guide says in a section called “Have sustainable parties.”

California’s 75 Percent Initiative aims to have a 75-percent statewide recycling rate by 2020, meaning 75 percent of solid waste would be recycled or composted rather than going to landfills. Stanford reached 65 percent in 2014, according to the Student Sustainable Living Guide. Muir also said that landfill waste, which was at 14,000 tons in 1998, is now down to 8,000 tons a year and falling.

However, Muir explained that waste audits have found that 30 percent of the waste the campus currently sends to the landfill could be composted, and an additional 25 percent could be recycled. Getting that 55 percent of landfill waste into recycling and compost bins requires students’ help.

“By the time these freshmen are ready to graduate, we need to be a lot closer to 75 percent [recycling] than we are now,” Muir said at the lunch.

At large unmarked bins next to the lawn where this year’s Zero-Waste Lunch was held, some freshmen peered inside and said they weren’t sure if that was the right place to dispose of their lunch waste.

“I kind of don’t know,” said Jiren Zhu ’19, who tossed his compostable bag inside. “I just saw another [bag] in there.”

A staffer at the lunch confirmed that the large bins were overflow compost bins.

At rows of smaller, dark brown bins that were clearly marked as compost, Office of Sustainability staff talked to students about composting, recycling and sustainability on campus. Muir said she hopes the event will help students recognize the compost bins found in waste corrals at some campus residences.

There were only two small landfill cans onsite at the lunch, plus two recycling cans — for non-compostable items students might have brought with them and needed to throw away.

Some students said the event was eye-opening, and a number said they didn’t know anything about composting beforehand.

“I didn’t know people were so into it around here,” said Katie Tich ’19. “It’s not really a thing in Maryland. It’s more socially acceptable here.”

Adam Stanford-Moore ’19 explained that he’s interested in sustainability and had a conversation with a staff member at the compost bins.

“I definitely learned about the degree to which Stanford cares about composting,” he said. “They seem really motivated.”


Contact Emma Johanningsmeier at ejmeier ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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