A Shocking Display Gets University of Redlands To Think Twice About Disposables

Students at the University of Redlands spend a week each semester to host fun activities that raise environmental awareness and inspire action on campus. The most recent Green Week coincided with Food Day, so Bon Appétit was invited to co-host an event with a coalition of environmental organizations that focused on waste and the food system. Students and staff strung 1,050 disposable to-go boxes around Hunsaker Plaza to show people how much ends up in the landfill every day on campus and the students asked people to pledge to only use to-go boxes when actually on the go.

1,050 disposable to-go boxes were strung around University of Redland's quad to encourage people to only use to-go boxes when dining outside of the building.

The idea for the event was conceived when students learned that on average 5,250 disposable to-go boxes end up in the landfill each week and approximately $25,000 is spent on those boxes each semester! When they researched, they found that a good portion of those boxes weren’t even leaving the dining hall; customers would just grab them out of convenience without even thinking twice about the environmental impacts of their decision. The goal of the event, according to Resident District Manager Brett Martin, “was to promote responsible use of disposables. The theme was ‘Your Choice’ and the idea was to encourage use of reusable plates and flatware when dining in, and using disposables only when taking meals out of the building.”

The boxes stirred up quite a bit of controversy on campus, some of which was not supportive of the waste reduction campaign. A number of people challenged the group saying if they cared so much about waste, then they shouldn’t waste additional boxes by hanging them. Once they learned the boxes were being reused by a local food bank they were more receptive to the event’s message. Others felt a sense of entitlement to be able to use to-go boxes whenever and however they wanted, and felt they deserved to make their own choices. These concerns missed the point of the display since it wasn’t about reducing options, rather encouraging responsible choices.

University of Redlands students and West Coast Fellow Claire Cummings gather in front of the "Your Choice" sign.

Aside from the few complaints, the group successfully got people thinking twice about grabbing a to-go box and reduced usage in the café was observed right away. Susan Martinez, Operations Manager at University of Redlands, said she noticed people pausing before grabbing a to-go box or plate. When walking into the Irvine Commons dining hall it was hard to miss the display and even though the boxes were only up for a day, there is no doubt the image of hundreds of to-go boxes swaying in the wind stuck in the minds of many.