Green2Go program introduces more sustainable dining

Image: Courtesy of Vassar College via vassar.edu

Although the takeout system Vassar used to date has been safe and accessible, the single use containers create an excess of plastic waste. Introduced for the Spring 2021 semester, the new Green2Go program provides a more sustainable dining model.

All will remember the trash cans outside the Gordon Commons overflowing with plastic take-out containers. Maria Ziaja ’22, an intern in the Office of Sustainability, said that this raised immediate concerns in her Office. “We were trying really hard to come up with some kind of solution by researching other schools and seeing what other options were out there,”she said. “We came across this Green2Go program where we were going to try to introduce reusable containers.”

The Green2Go program, developed by the Sustainability Office in collaboration with Vassar SEED and Vassar GREENS, introduced reusable containers to the Gordon Commons’ take-out system. When students enroll in the program, they’re given a membership tag and a token. Students exchange the token for a reusable container at the dining hall’s Home, Root, Oasis and Brick stations. (Green2Go containers currently aren’t available at the The Grill, The Deli, or Kosher stations). Participants are expected to rinse out their containers before depositing them in the collection box at the Gordon Commons, which will supply students with a new token once a reusable container is returned. 

Time constraints posed a challenge for the team working to develop the program. “A lot of campuses that have these Green2Go programs have had them for a long time, but for us it was basically like we need to get this done over winter break,” Ziaja explained. Furthermore, COVID-19 safety guidelines created problems for the team. “Initially, we were going to have it so you could get multiple different stations in one container, but that became an issue because of the contamination,” Ziaja said.

The Green2Go program is in its pilot stage. Only 100 students were enrolled in the program at the start of the semester. The goal is to expand by roughly 50 students every week, drawing from a waitlist of interested students. At the moment, 147 students are enrolled in the program, but only 94 have picked up their tag and tokens from the sustainability office, which are necessary to  use the reusable containers. This is one of the challenges thus far with the pilot program, substantially slowing down its expansion. 

There have also been other  hiccups during the rollout. “There’s been some smaller issues with people dropping their token into the bucket and the Deece [Gordon Commons] worker didn’t hear or didn’t know to give them a reusable container, and there have been a couple malfunctions with the collection box not giving back a token when you put your box in,” Ziaja explained. Insufficient cleaning of containers before depositing them at the Gordon Commons has posed the greatest hurdle. “If they aren’t cleaned out it really slows down the entire process and makes it so much harder to expand the program as quickly as we would like,” Ziaja added. Expanding Green2Go is contingent on students picking up their tokens, rinsing out their containers before returning them and not sharing containers or tokens. 

Another challenge in expanding the program is campus awareness. Grace Hall ’23 noted, “I was extremely concerned about the mounting piles of plastic containers for all of fall semester and was really hoping that there would be a solution coming soon, but I haven’t really heard of the Green2Go program. I’ve just seen the container collector in the Deece [Gordon Commons] but I don’t know how the program works.” 

Ziaja agrees that campus awareness could be improved, especially as the program expands and more slots become available. If the program is expanded successfully and student participation is high, the Sustainability Office estimates that roughly 30,000 fewer plastic containers will be used throughout the semester. “I know the goal isn’t to eliminate waste completely because we don’t have them everywhere or for every station in the Deece [Gordon Commons], but I think it will do a significant amount to reduce waste,” Ziaja said . 

Ziaja hopes that the program can continue even through the Fall 2021 semester, when indoor dining at the Gordon Commons presumably returns to normal. Ziaja would like to see the program expanded to other take-out dining options. “I think it would be even more valuable if we’re completely back to normal in Express and Retreat and the Bridge, as those places are completely take-out and we do see a lot of waste, even before COVID,” she explained. 

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