Chartwells must make sacrifices to go green

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

The U campus has gone green this year.

In an effort to meet U President Michael Young’s climate commitment, the university is seriously considering how it impacts the environment. As such, students should be evaluating products and services available on campus for their earth-friendliness and recyclability.

One problematic area is the Union’s food court. Currently it offers cups, plates and to-go containers made from Styrofoam, an environmentally-unfriendly material. It does not biodegrade easily, the recycling costs are expensive and it releases the toxic chemical styrene into the food or drink. But hey, on the upside, it’s cheap.

In 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Human Tissue Survey researchers found styrene in 100 percent of their samples of human fat tissue. The toxin stores up in fatty tissue and can then cause fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping and blood abnormalities. World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that styrene is also a possible human carcinogen.

Even though Styrofoam is terrible for the environment and humans, Chartwells said it provides a necessary win-win for the U campus because students with limited budgets can afford to eat. Reggie Connelly, the Utah resident district manager of Chartwells Compass Group, said the change to paper is costly to make the change to paper and he wants to make sure students are committed to actually going green.

“Absolutely, we were trying to do something with (Styrofoam) this year but…the economy and food prices skyrocketed this year and it put the plate issue back,” Connelly said. “So we didn’t want to inflate prices on campus by adding a plate of corn base or a biodegradable plate or compostable plate that was going to cost the students twice the price.”

Students’ No. 1 complaint is the cost of campus food, said Jen Colby, coordinator of the U’s Office of Sustainability. The problem is getting people to recognize the true cost of going green.

“So, Chartwells you have to say is operating on…an extremely narrow margin, with a lot more pressure from people complaining about prices than probably from people complaining about Styrofoam, to be perfectly honest,” Colby said. “Unfortunately, as we work in this world of sustainability, the bare bones reality is that there is some significant trade-offs that have to be made.”

Connelly said the price increase to students for paper products would be about 15 cents per plate, but Jim Taggart, owner of several local Wendy’s franchises, said Chartwells is a billion dollar-plus company with large-quantity buying power and believes price is a bogus argument.

“The price difference is so minimal, I think the U should force them to go green,” Taggart said. “Our paper costs at Wendy’s runs 4 percent8212;that’s everything. If the students say8212;and I bet most students would say this8212;”I will pay 3 cents more for my food if you just use paper instead of Styrofoam,’ they would be making exactly the same amount of money. There would be no change in their bottom line.”

Chartwells, in its efforts to go green, has recently switched plastic containers that held salads and sandwiches to a compostable, corn-based plastic. It has also changed its catering division’s lunch box so everything is biodegradable and has purchased recycled paper napkins. Chartwells even offers a green bag and refillable mugs to eliminate the need for choosing “paper or plastic.”

But these great improvements do not eliminate the huge environmental statement Chartwells and the U are making by choosing to use Styrofoam products because of the price. With that statement, they are saying they don’t care that its bad for us, the earth and future generations8212;Styrofoam is cheap, and we need cheap because students can’t afford to be green.

The U made a commitment to infuse sustainability principles throughout campus. It has an obligation that exceeds the boundaries of costs and profit margins. Requiring U service providers to remove all Styrofoam food container products from campus not only helps to meet those climate commitments, but also establishes the precedence that the earth’s future environmental health, as well as student and employee health, should prioritized before service providers’ profits and will not be negotiated.

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Alicia Williams

Willus Branham