Stomping Out Styrofoam™: Appalachian Food Services Moves Toward Zero Waste

Participants in our Food Services Behind the Scenes tours meet under the Recycled Aluminum Spoon sculpture that hangs in the Roess Dining Hall Promenade. The sculpture was cast in 2012 by Joe Bigley, Adjunct Instructor of Art, and contains approximately 100 lbs. of aluminum foil and pans collected from the Appalachian Food Services kitchens during a one year period.

"The sculpture is a visual representation of Food Services commitment to sustainability," shared Pam Cline, Director of Food Services.

This commitment extends beyond local and sustainable food sourcing to include reducing, reusing and recycling – important and essential actions as Appstate moves toward Zero Waste.

Zero Waste Policy - Waste is a term the Appstate campus community will hear much more of in the near future. And, a crucial piece in this commitment was eliminating polystyrene foam or Styrofoam™ from Appalachian Food Services' dining facilities.

According to Heather Brandon, Food Services Specialist, who has led many of the tours, a common question has been "When are you getting rid of Styrofoam™?"

"Styrofoam™ was the industry standard for many years because of its insulation value and because of its cost," noted Jennifer Maxwell, University Sustainability Program Specialist in the Office of Sustainability at Appalachian State University.

Jennifer went on to share that while there are options to recycle polystyrene foams, there is no market availability in our area. Due to the lack of recycling options and because polystyrene foams never degrade in the landfills, the conversation around alternatives began as early as the mid-80s. However, early alternatives were problematic – something that Jennifer and Heather began discussing shortly after Heather joined the Food Services team to lead sustainability efforts in 2008.

"At first," recalled Heather, "the cost of polystyrene alternatives was prohibitive, not to mention that these containers were not designed to hold hot foods or saucy foods."

paper take out boxesAt that time, the cost was four to five times that of polystyrene containers. Because the campus community has consumed 204,000 three-compartment take-out containers and 126,250 24oz. beverage cups on average each year since 2012, the cost required to transition to polystyrene alternatives was not feasible.

Heather noted, "Appalachian Food Services is self-operated and our budget comes from student meal account purchases. Because of this, we strive to be good stewards of our funds."

She added that, while eliminating Styrofoam™ was always the plan, the timeline was pushed back due other projects including the renovations of Trivette Hall and Food Services' commitment to local purchasing.

Luckily as consumer demand grew for polystyrene alternatives, not only at Appalachian but nationwide, these products became better and less expensive. To prepare for the transition, Food Services worked closely with the Office of Sustainability to identify the right products for Appstate.

Jennifer researched and ultimately tested several types of polystyrene alternatives – plastic, which is recyclable, and paper, which is compostable. (Pictured right, new paper take-out boxes)

Reusable salad bowls"We felt, as a university, that paper was a better choice. It can be composted and that's the direction we are trying to head through the zero waste initiative."

Although Food Services and several other departments do compost, post-consumer composting bins are not currently available across campus; therefore, the new polystyrene alternatives are, for the most part, still ending up in the landfill stream.

The Office of Sustainability has worked for several years on landfill waste reduction, not only with Food Services, but also with the Purchasing Department, with athletics at Zero Waste stadium events and with University Housing to name a few. To increase waste diversion, Food Services and the Office of Sustainability worked together ahead of the transition away from polystyrene to encourage reusables in campus dining venues.

Both Rivers Street Café in the Roess Dining Hall and Park Place in Trivette Hall offer reusable dinnerware, drinkware and utensils. Food Services worked to make these items more visible; they also purchased new salad bowls (pictured left) after learning that diners were using Styrofoam™ boxes for salads in the dining rooms because it was easier to toss a salad in a deeper container. Food Services also made take-out boxes less accessible by locating them behind the serving lines. And, Zero Waste interns from the Office of Sustainability worked in the Roess Dining Hall tray return areas to educate diners on waste separation.

Yosef stomping on Styrofoam cupJennifer concluded, "While it's important to understand the costs associated with transitioning away from Styrofoam™, there is also a value added piece to consider – an educational opportunity you really can't put a dollar figure on. Appalachian is a leader in sustainability, and in this case, because Food Services is one of the most visible areas on campus, we have an opportunity to lead by example."

As of April 2016, Appalachian Food Services is Styrofoam™ free. This is one step in the right direction but not the total solution. You can help Appalachian State University meet its Zero Waste goals by doing the following:

  • Choose reusables when dining in! Find reusables at Rivers Street Café in the Roess Dining Hall and Park Place in Trivette Hall.
  • Use one of the many water stations across campus to fill your reusable water bottle.
  • Use a reusable cup for self-serve fountain beverages or coffee. We offer a discount for all reusable cup purchases.
  • Only use a take-out box when leaving Food Services venues. Sorry, the Health Department does not allow the use of personal, reusable take-out boxes in Appalachian Food Services venues due to the potential for cross contact or other contamination concerns.
  • Request a Zero Waste event from our Catering department.
  • Recycle all plastics, glass, metals and clean paper (not contaminated by food).

Posted March 31, 2016

Yosef stomping on Styrofoam plates
Published: Apr 14, 2016 10:30am