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'Taste not Waste' is New Motto for Waste-Free Dining at Dartmouth

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 09/11/06 • Genevieve Haas • (603) 646-3661

Pilot program invites students to join 'Sustainable Dining Club'

If Dartmouth Sustainability Coordinator Jim Merkel has his way, this will be the year Dartmouth students get fed up with trash. Sept. 19 marks the College's convocation ceremonies and the first time that Dartmouth students will have the option to eat from College dining services without producing any waste.

The Dartmouth Sustainability Initiative relies on the 'Cradle to Cradle' philosophy to eliminate waste in dining.

Merkel, in collaboration with the student group Sustainable Dartmouth and college officials, has revamped Home Plate dining hall with the goal of changing people's habits from disposability to a more environmentally sound dining experience. If the transformation works, "habits of zero-waste will become 'normal'," Merkel said, "throwing away a tray-full of trash - usually after no more than thirty minutes of use -will become psychologically difficult. The goal is to elicit an allergic reaction to packaging and waste."

Home Plate, located in the south side of Thayer Hall, has always offered students a healthier dining alternative with a menu including low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium, and high fiber foods. That emphasis has been extended toward organic and locally-grown foods, and Home Plate now features everything from an exotic salad and baked potato bar to pasta and panini.

Under the new sustainability program, almost all of the formerly packaged foods - such as milk cartons, condiments and sodas - will now be served from bulk containers. Disposable tableware has been replaced with reusable. The few packaged items for which no substitutes could be found will be sorted and recycled, and all food waste will be composted and put directly back into the campus landscaping. To support these initiatives, Home Plate has launched its "Taste not Waste" campaign, including a new mural and educational displays in the dining hall area, slow-dining socials, table-top trivia, and other consciousness-raising opportunities. An opening celebration is in the works for sometime during fall 2006.

While the transition at Home Plate involved relatively easy and inexpensive measures, the longer-term implications of this flagship effort are significant. Merkel has calculated that as of 2004, campus trash at Dartmouth totaled 4.67 million pounds annually, up 15% from 2001. "That's about three and half football fields of trash footprint per person," he translated. The goal of the Dartmouth Sustainability Initiative is to move toward a philosophy pioneered by Dartmouth alumnus William McDonough '73 who authored the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. McDonough hoped to solve the waste problem by turning all outputs into inputs. "In that tradition," Merkel says, "waste-free dining at Dartmouth is a big first step toward shrinking Dartmouth's ecological footprint."

"We're trying to close all the loops," said Merkel, who has specialized in getting Dartmouth students to embrace the feasibility of sustainable living. "Eventually, we'd like to get campus dishwashers running on solar power and have the compost go directly into growing organic food. For now, though, we'll take it one step at a time."

Students, faculty and staff can take advantage of the waste-free environment at Home Plate, but for some, the waste-free dining options are even broader. Dartmouth recently established the Sustainable Dining Club, open, for now, to the first 100 people to sign up. Members receive a free kit that will make waste-free dining possible anywhere on campus. The kit includes a leak-proof Nalgene bottle, an eco-mug, a cloth napkin, silverware, a carabineer and a washable takeout container. "The carabineer is for clipping your Nalgene bottle to your backpack and the container is part of a rotating set to be used for takeout," explained Merkel.

With the kit comes a membership card that members can display at Home Plate and at Collis Café in order to receive a reusable takeout container. "Returns are on the honor system," said Merkel. "If you show up at Collis and they don't have any more containers, you might have to go back to your dorm room to return the ones you already have." The card's other purpose is score-keeping. The back of the card has room for members to note the number of times they've eaten waste-free and to account for the amount of disposable dining waste they've saved. Merkel estimates that the cost of each Sustainable Dining Club kit is paid for after just 20 days of eating waste-free.

Although membership during September will be limited to the first 100 Dartmouth students, faculty and staff to sign up, if the pilot program is successful, membership will expand throughout the year. For now, however, those interested in joining the club should either contact Merkel directly or visit Home Plate on Sept.19 when he and members of Sustainable Dartmouth will be giving out membership kits, and free ice cream cones. "The aim," smiles Merkel, "is to make sustainability both the most palatable and popular dining choice."

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