More Than the Salad Bar

Andrew WIckerham

As summer winds down in upstate New York, Colgate’s dining services are working to make sure that not all of the green disappears from the Chenango Valley. A major promotion of ecologically friendly products and policies is underway this fall in campus dining venues, a pattern that organizers hope to spread across the campus.

“I wanted to see where we could go with a ‘green’ push,” Retail Manager for Sodhexo Dining Services Dan Fravil, who oversees food services at the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) and Heiber Caf?e (Heiber), said. “I stumbled upon some of the products when I was out west at Colorado College.”

Fravil, who sits on the University’s Ecology Committee, said that the initiative covers many aspects of the University’s dining services. The program began slowly with a test of one brand of biodegradable flatware last spring, but took on a much more public role this fall, when table-tents and signs appeared in the Coop announcing a complete switchover to the products.

“What we have now is a bit heavier weight than what we tried last year,” Fravil said, explaining that the previous brand drew the ire of some for its tendency to soften under even mild heating. “Some people didn’t like it [last year] but then they flipped it over and read ‘biodegradable’ and were ok with it.”

Now the Coop stocks Cereplast flatware, produced by Cereplast Inc. of Hawthorne, California. According to the company, the Cereplast polymer is starch-based and is derived from corn, potatoes and other renewable plants. It is produced using 40-50 percent less fossil fuel than conventional petroleum-based plastics.

In addition to the Cereplast products, the Coop now uses plant-based Green Wave products for plates, bowls and takeout boxes, while all napkins there are made from post-consumer paper. The Coca-Cola-brand cups are also made from post-consumer products, but are sourced from Coca-Cola Company itself. Similarly, at Heiber the We Proudly Brew Starbucks-brand cups are made from post-consumer paper. All plastic products there are Cereplast.

“All of these materials are biodegradable within 60-180 days at most,” Fravil said.

Fravil said that the response to the initiative has been positive.

“I get two to three comment cards a day [about the products], many from students, and they’re all generally positive,” he said.

Some negative reaction has focused on the new, considerably smaller cups at the smoothie bar in the Coop. Fravil said that Freshens, a national brand that supplies the Coop smoothies, began the year supplying a 32-ounce, non-biodegradable polystyrene cup.

“I explained to them that if they couldn’t [supply] a biodegradable cup, we might have to drop the account,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to come to an agreement and new cups will be arriving soon.”

Campus environmental groups supported the switch, saying any eco-friendly action is a step in the right direction.

“The materials being used are the result of an excellent blend of vision and persistence,” said junior co-leader of Students for Environmental Action (SEA) Gavin Leighton. “I think the [Cereplast] utensils are a fine example of simple, yet important, solutions to making Colgate a greener campus.”

Cups and plates are a very obvious “green” change on campus, but the behind-the-scenes aspects of Fravil’s program are far less noticeable, even though they may play a larger role in reducing Colgate’s environmental impact.

“Our thinking was ‘be green whenever possible,” Fravil said.

To meet this goal, Dining Services began a program of local sourcing for many foodstuffs, including fruit, vegetables and dairy. According to SEA, such targeted purchasing has many environmental benefits.

“We believe that buying locally grown produce is environmentally responsible due to the chemical and shipping problems caused by massive corporate farms,” Leighton said. “I think that the dining halls don’t necessarily need to buy all their food from local farmers; however, slowly incorporating these foods into the meals is a step in the right direction.”

Fravil worked with produce suppliers Sysco and Mentos to see that as much produce bought by the school as possible would come from local farms, when in season. Additionally, all dairy products the school uses now come from Syracuse-based Byrne Dairy.

The final aspect of the program makes use of some of the school’s dining waste products. Deep-fryer oil from the Coop and Curtiss E. Frank Dining Hall is collected and refined into biodiesel fuel for use by Utica-based bakery Bagel Grove in the company’s delivery trucks.

Closer to Colgate, a portion of the oil is reserved for Coop employee Mari Iwazaki-Gysin and her husband, who also use biodiesel in their car.

Fravil said that he hopes these efforts are just the beginning of a larger, campus-wide drive to reduce the University’s environmental impact. He suggested that students should play an increasingly larger role in this process, if it continues to grow.

“I’ve been to other campuses where [green thinking] is right in front of you and there are students here who really want to make these strides at Colgate,” Fravil said. “For now, the more that we can push, the more we are going to do.”