Freshman reuses disposable food containers to promote sustainable practices

Social+work+freshman+Sierra+Harvey+collected+all+food+containers+from+her+first+semester+to+create+a+sustainable+work+of+art.

Jeanette Giovanniello

Social work freshman Sierra Harvey collected all food containers from her first semester to create a sustainable work of art.

by Jeanette Giovanniello, Staff Writer

A freshman found a way to make her San Diego State dining experience both sustainable and creative, showcasing an art display of plastic containers and paper wraps.

Throughout her first semester, social work freshman Sierra Harvey collected all of the food containers she received from campus restaurants. Being restricted to meal plan options, she noticed almost every restaurant served their food in disposable, plastic containers.

“There’s no choice but to use the meal plan, and I was kind of sad about having to use all this stuff just to throw it away,” Harvey said. “So I started putting all my containers in my move-in boxes, thinking I can use it for something like a display, but I thought I’d just end up recycling it.”

After joining EcoReps, a student-led program within the university’s Office of Sustainability, Harvey found use for her collected containers. She consulted with Charlotte Roberts, a sustainability senior and fellow EcoReps team member, and the two brainstormed a way to turn the trash into treasure.

The creation resulted in colorful strings of utensils, wrappers, bags and containers — each a different color, each from a different restaurant, each made of plastic.

“If you’re on the campus meal plan, you have to get this stuff. You have to have that wrapper or plastic bowl,” Roberts said. “This display is a message saying don’t feel bad if you’re trying and you’re still making trash. It’s not your fault, it’s the system.”

Despite her consistent collecting, Harvey credits her friends at EcoReps with putting the waste installation together and bringing the event to life.

Next to the installation were two large, recyclable cubes: one made of crushed aluminum cans, the other made of plastic bottles. This display was made to bring awareness to reduce disposable intake.

The Office of Sustainability has contributed many efforts to parts of campus that may go unnoticed: hydration stations to refill water bottles, bike lanes to reduce gas emissions and several LEED-certified buildings are all results of the Sustainability team, according to their campus walking tour.

There is more in store for an eco-friendly SDSU. Roberts is also the Committee Chair of Zero Waste at Greenlove, the sustainability commission on campus. They hope to make the Student Union 100% zero waste.

Although the task sounds ideal, it is difficult to maintain. While the building operations are possible, Roberts says conservation lies in the students’ hands.

“We need a team of people to come up with creative signage that people actually look at, and read, and learn from when they’re sorting their trash,” Roberts said. ”We want to find effective education methods to get people to think about trash.”

Despite the school’s meal plan that invites plastic collections like Harvey’s, SDSU Dining has made changes to promote its pledge to sustainability as well. At University Towers Kitchen, students are given the option to purchase reusable containers for a la carte meals, rather than using the standard plastic disposable dishes.

Changes are happening at SDSU and at other California State University campuses following a sustainability policy passed by the CSU in 2014. The policy strives to purchase sustainable food, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and reduce 80% of waste per capita landfill, all by this year.

“As an individual you can’t completely eliminate trash, but you can advocate for the system to be better,” Roberts said. “You can write to companies and ask them to stop using so much disposable stuff. You can reduce your own intake. We can’t be perfect, but there is hope.”

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