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College introduces reusable takeout containers to dining halls

This semester, the College introduced the Eco-To-Go program. The program provides students with reusable takeout containers that can be used in Foss, Bobs, and Dana dining halls.

Students can register for the program and pick up their containers at the Bobs Dining Office Monday through Friday from 8-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. The first container is free, and replacement containers cost five dollars each.

After use, students can return their containers to Dana during dining hours. The containers should be rinsed and cleaned of uneaten food before they are returned. Clean containers can also be picked up at Dana.

Students are not allowed to take outside containers into the dining halls. If a student wants to take a meal to-go they need to register for the Eco-To-Go program.

Last year, due to COVID-19-related restrictions in dining halls, students were able to take their meals to-go in disposable containers. The College was not able to use reusable containers last year because the state of Maine placed restrictions on them, citing sanitary reasons.

Although necessary, last year’s grab-and-go style of dining was extremely wasteful. It was common to see trash cans overflowing with disposable containers.

It became impossible to have a meal at Colby without producing a significant amount of waste. Single-use plastic, paper bags, and disposable containers were unavoidable.

This semester, dining halls do not offer disposable to-go containers. Although this is great from an environmental standpoint, many students missed being able to take their meals to-go.

The Eco-To-Go program comes as a response to students’ desires for the flexibility that comes with to-go dining and concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Students in the Student Government Association (SGA) Environmental Sustainability Working Group have been working to implement the program since Spring Semester 2021, including Cheshta Prasad `22 and Abby Recko `22. Laura Drepanos `23, an Eco-Rep, also contributed to the implementation of the program.

The program was based on Middlebury College’s “Middlebury To-Go Containers Plan.” Last spring, SGA met with the head of dining at Middlebury College, and the College now uses the same containers they do.

The College had initially decided not to implement the program over the summer. However, concerns about COVID-19 and the work that students put into the program ultimately led to the adoption of Eco-To-Go this fall.

“It was a pretty big collective effort, and it took a long time,” SGA member Silas Gramaglia `23 said. Gramaglia worked closely with the Colby administration to get the school to adopt the program.

He also pointed out that the program was more economically sustainable for the school. In the long run, it will be cheaper for the school to purchase reusable containers than thousands of single-use paper products.

Earlier this semester, after the College decided not to implement the program, students created a petition and got in touch with dining hall administrators. Linzy Rosen `22 helped circulate the petition.

“[Students] were really concerned about the huge crowds, the lines, and wanted the flexibility that we had last year,” Rosen said.  “Definitely COVID-19 was a big factor.”

 After months of work, student concerns were ultimately heard, and the Eco-To-Go program was introduced.

The program seems to offer the best of both worlds. Students can now have the ease and safety of to-go dining without producing unnecessary waste. Rosen hopes that the program will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s really convenient for students.” she said. “It can help students who have anxiety or any other concerns about the crowds in dining halls, and just allows flexibility.”

The program already seems to be popular among the student body. Rosen has seen many students carrying the green eco-containers around campus, and thinks students are catching on. She thinks that once more students are aware of the program and understand how to get their own container it will become even more widely used.

“I’m happy that you can join anytime you want. There’s not a deadline,” Rosen said. “I think it will become more popular even later into the semester.”

More information about the Eco-To-Go program is available on the College’s dining website.  Students who want to join the program can go to Bobs and register Monday through Friday. It is easy and free to register for the program, and the containers are sustainable.

~ Veronica McIntyre `24

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