Loomis Goes … Plastic?

Sandro Mocciolo '23, Contributor

Loomis Chaffee community members have noticed an increase in the volume of waste from single-use plastics in the dining hall due to new COVID-19 safety measures. While these protocols for the 2020-21 school year are necessary to protect the health of dining hall users, initiatives that aim to mitigate their environmental effects are currently in development.

Following the removal of self-serve stations, the dining hall implemented one-way routes through the servery and has begun the transition to single-use dishes and utensils in order to minimize cross-contamination and germ spread, as well as to reduce density in the servery. Despite the increased safety, many believe these important measures have altered the levels of environmental sustainability at Loomis.

“There is definitely more trash on campus because of the take-away lunch system,” Sal Katz ’23 said.

Nonetheless, the Loomis community has the ability to lessen the impacts of this transition to disposable eating ware. Various organizations on campus have generated and proposed ideas to promote environmental sustainability in the dining hall during these unprecedented times.

The central initiative is an education campaign spearheaded by the Environmental Proctors. It entails a survey that would be sent to students asking about their experiences in and observations of the dining hall this year, as well as what actions they would be willing to take to increase Loomis’ environmental sustainability. The goal of this campaign is to encourage students to make decisions that reflect environmental awareness and gauge the community’s overall inclination to improve sustainability this year.

For example, the survey would ask if students would use personal reusable utensils and water bottles and wash them in between school days to reduce the number of cups and utensils sent to landfills or incinerators. In tandem with this idea, Sophie Rodner ’21, the head Environmental Proctor, has consulted with Bookstore Manager Ms. Tammy Hobbs about selling personalized reusable “Loomis” utensils.

“I would say the biggest way, in terms of reducing your waste, would be to bring your own water bottle to school,” Sophie said.

The campaign would also explore the possibility of reinstating a compost bin in the dining hall for biodegradable waste, an initiative that began last January but is currently suspended this year. If there are enough community interest and commitment, that program could return.

It may seem that simply recycling plastic containers and utensils can have a strong impact, but many students do not realize that this is not necessarily the case.

“I think that a lot of people have been thinking they’re doing their part by recycling a container with food in it,” Sophie said.

“None of the waste, essentially, that we’re making in the dining hall is able to be recycled because it’s all contaminated with food waste.”

While it is recognized that Loomis cannot reach its usual level of sustainability regarding dining hall waste, the initiatives launching this year have the potential to improve the school’s current environmental impact. In years prior, Loomis has passed many initiatives, such as the solar field just off-campus, in order to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. In the interest of a safer, healthier community, Loomis has had to make the hard decision to sacrifice some of these improvements.

While the pandemic has made pursuing sustainability especially challenging, the Alvord Center for Global and Environmental
Studies, as well as the E-Proctors, continue to work to empower individuals to make thoughtful choices. Small changes people make in their behavior, whether it be bringing a reusable bottle or eating less red meat, and an increase in environmental consciousness, can have great influence.

“It’s the responsibility of each individual to be mindful of their impact,” Director of Environmental Sustainability Initiatives Jeff Dyreson notes.