Eat Green

March 1, 1997

W.J. Keith and Judith Zwolak

The University Center Food Court's new "Green Dining" program is not about eating more spinach and broccoli; rather, it promotes dining in a more environmentally concerned manner. A joint program between the Marriott Corp., which runs the food court, the Tulane Green Club and Tulane Environmental Project (TEP), the program focuses primarily on educating the uptown campus community about environmentally friendly dining and providing incentives to use fewer resources when eating at the food court.

"Our current plan is to stop people from using so many disposable cups and plates," says Aaron Allen, Green Club president, TEP member and Tulane College junior. TEP is a group of environmentally concerned faculty, staff and students and is led by Allen, Oliver Houck, professor of law, and J. Timmons Roberts, assistant professor of sociology.

One way the Green Dining program hopes to stem the use of disposable cups is by marketing a reusable 22-ounce mug. The mug sells for $3 and is available at the food court cashier area and in the bookstore. Inside the mug is a coupon for a free drink at the food court. All future drink purchases are 79 cents each, compared to the regular price of $1.19. Proceeds from mug sales support the Green Club, a student environmental organization.

"Currently, we are 100-percent disposable on beverage containers," says David Wait, Marriott's food services director for retail operations at Tulane. "There is just no logical place to set up racks for glasses. That's partly why we're promoting the reusable mugs." Allen says that students, who are normally on a limited budget, should welcome the chance to save money with the new mug. "The policy has the two key words that attract students--'save money,'" Allen says. "The mug allows you to save money and be environmentally considerate."

The Green Dining program also encourages people who eat in the food court to use Marriott's chinaware rather than plastic-foam containers. "There is absolutely no reason why you should be served on [plastic-foam] plates unless it's a take-out order," Allen says. "When you're dining in and ordering food, just say you want chinaware. It's that simple." Wait says that plastic foam is the only option for hot take-out orders that meets with local health regulations. Encouraging the use of nondisposable plates and silverware requires education on both sides of the counter, agree Allen and Wait.

Informational cards on all tables in the food court, printed on environmentally friendly banana paper, advocate using chinaware and silverware rather than disposable plastic foam and plastic. Wait says that Marriott has advised all workers behind the service line to encourage the use of chinaware for all eat-in diners. "Since the program began this semester, probably 75 percent of all orders [on the hot service line] are on chinaware," Wait says. "It was as low as 30-35 percent before."

Other vendors in the food court, such as Taco Bell and Subway, use their own food packaging, primarily paper wrap, Wait adds. Marriott has also set up blue bins to recycle used glass beverage containers next to garbage bins and tray stands in the food court. In the kitchen, Wait says Marriott also recycles glass, aluminum, tin, plastic and cardboard in its kitchen area. It's not always easy being green, however.

"In the food court, there is a retail fast-food mentality, so there is a tremendous amount of paper usage," Wait says. In the future, Wait sees an even greener food court at the University Center. "We are currently talking about enhancing the service area," he says. "I would like to have an area where we can dispense plastic glasses like they have at Bruff Commons."

He also plans to change the scales at the check-out registers to be able to weigh the self-serve salads on chinaware. The current scales aren't built to handle the extra 12-ounce weight of chinaware, so diners must get their salads in disposable plastic.

For his part, Allen anticipates a more environmentally sensitive dining experience at the University Center in the future, which could include more vegan and vegetarian selections, "java jackets" (thermal cups made of 100-percent recycled paper) for hot drink cups and increased education and publicity about green dining. "The key to this is that people can make a significant difference with very little effort," he says.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000