Did you ever notice something once and you can’t unsee it anymore? Like that wall hooks look like arms of an octopus, or a stain on your shirt. There was something the SUMA Net Impact board members couldn’t unsee at Columbia University; it was the waste we generated at each event. As part of a student group, events are customary to provide free enticing food and beverages. The reality is, after each event the board members are left with cleaning up and taking out the garbage. The waste from the free food would spill over recycling and trash bins.
While planning for the Spring 2018 semester Vibhuti, our president, requested we take a look at whether reusable utensils could be used at events instead of one-time-use. Immediately, we all realized it was the obvious initiative. As Sustainability Management master’s candidates, it would be ironic to produce so much waste for events meant to publicize sustainability.
The solution is to request all event attendees to bring their own containers and utensils. Initially, we slipped in a sentence to the bottom of one of our email blasts for attendees to bring their own utensils and cups, if they could. Eventually, in every invite and SUMA Net Impact event we would include the request to bring reusable utensils. The request would always immediately follow the promise of free food and beverage.
Another option was for SUMA Net Impact to buy our own reusable cutleries. However, as a student group, we had to book rooms wherever it is available. We couldn’t coordinate efficiently how to get dirty dishes cleaned or who would do it.
Another option was to not offer food or beverage. That was quickly turned down, as many student events are immediately after class and events would have cut through dinner time.
After three events of requesting attendees to bring reusable utensils and cups, we checked out the waste situation of the bins. Unfortunately, we did not have the proper weighing equipment. However, with our average attendee size of 35 people, 35 sandwiches, 5 liters of soda, 3 dozen cupcakes and a visual test it is clear that there’s ~50% reduction in waste. All the bins were at most half full! As a result, the team will continue this practice and continue to find new ways to reduce the remaining waste. 50% today, zero waste tomorrow!
–Lucy Lu, Director of Communications