EMU food vendors criticized for lack of green products

With the rapid addition of food vendors in the Erb Memorial Union, readily compostable products have had a slow start.

Student Mike Schwentner, a member of the Zero Waste Program, a group dedicated to creating sustainable choices around campus, says that EMU vendors are producing too much waste and students need to be more aware.

“I  just wanted to put all the vendors in [the EMU] on blast and put awareness out for students,” Schwentner said. “That awareness can put pressure on the vendors to become more green.”

Schwenter says his biggest issue is with Starbucks.

“The reason I want to pick on Starbucks a little more is because [its] primary product is a drink, so [it] produces a lot of these drink cups and they’re not compostable,” Schwentner said.

Tom Driscoll, Associate Director for Housing and Food Services, says there have been many conversations with Starbucks to combat this issue.

“We’ve talked to Starbucks about the idea of compostable cups. I think [Starbucks is] looking into it. There is a cost issue there and [Starbucks has] other ways to handle that like the 10 cent discount for reusable cups,” Driscoll said. “In some ways, the customer can participate in the solution because reusable is a better solution than compostable.”

On the other hand, Schwentner says that Joe’s Burgers has done a better job of integrating green products.

“One of the most green places here, I feel, is Joe’s because everything is compostable including [its] drink cups,” Schwentner said.

Driscoll says vendors have been proactive in making changes to be more compliant with the Zero Waste Program.

Vendors are encouraged to mimic campus dining procedures, but can run into roadblocks because they are independent businesses and have their own costs to control, Driscoll said.

“You know it was a mad dash to get each one of them open and operating, and now we’re working with them to help them take advantage of the opportunity to compost on campus. That may not necessarily be a part of their normal operation elsewhere, so we’re learning about that and they’re getting up to speed,” Schwentner said.

The Zero Waste Program Manager Karyn Kaplan says she hopes that new vendors will pay more attention to the waste they are producing before they open their doors and that preexisting vendors will make changes.

Kaplan says that when the old EMU was open, Panda Express went to [its] national company and was able to change [its] styrofoam to-go boxes to a material that can be composted.

“People have the opportunity to reduce consumption and do things with care like knowing what goes where,” Kaplan said. “You have an impact by doing the right thing. It affects a much bigger part than just you.”

Mike Schwentner’s views do not reflect those of the Zero Waste Program as a whole.

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Lauren Garetto

Lauren Garetto