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IU Dining chooses compostable products to eliminate trash |

IU Dining chooses compostable products to eliminate trash

It was easy for the 7,000 Boy Scouts who came to Indiana University last week to eliminate waste at mealtime. When they were done eating, all they had to do was put everything — uneaten food, plates, cups, straws, spoons, forks and bowls — into bins labeled “compost.”

“All waste ends up in the same place,” said Will Coots, central region chief for the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow honor society.

Coots and his colleagues weren’t breaking any rules of composting. IU Dining has contracted with a company called World Centric to bring compostable dinnerware to the food courts at Wright and Forest quadrangles, Goodbody Hall and the Bookmarket Eatery in the Herman B Wells Library. It’s part of an effort to increase sustainability by making those dining areas zero-waste facilities.

Exactly what constitutes a zero-waste facility varies depending on the entity. Rahul Shrivastav, executive director of IU Dining, said diverting 96 percent of waste from landfills is a common threshold for being considered a zero-waste facility. When he came to IU about a year ago, he set a goal of 98 percent.

Achieving that goal, for the most part, came down to changing behavior. Implementing changes on what Shrivastav referred to as the pre-consumer side of food service was easy. Employees can be instructed to separate recyclable materials. Cooking from scratch helps, too. Leftovers from one meal, such as onion peels and carrot ends, can be used for other purposes, such as stock for soup, said Darren Worth, chef for IU Eateries.

The post-consumer side of the operation is where things get tough. Students, often in a hurry, won’t always separate recyclables into the proper bins. Shrivastav’s solution was to reduce their options.

“The simple way is creating one waste stream,” he said, “and that’s compostable.”

He started with compostable cups from Coca-Cola. World Centric, a California-based company, supplied spoons and cups made from cornstarch. Plates and bowls are made from non-bleached recycled paper.

The price of compostable dinnerware is about the same as the non-compostable products IU Dining was buying, Shrivastav said. What did cost more was compost pickup. To offset that new expense, World Centric agreed to provide IU Dining with a 3 percent rebate.

“When you do stuff that’s new and you want people to stick with it, you want to go where it’s an advantage for your company,” he said.

The ability to offer a zero-waste event has already proven advantageous for IU. Promoting camping and environmental stewardship are important goals for the Order of the Arrow, Coots said. The group wanted to have a low-waste conference, and IU made that easy.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to be forward thinking and make sure the same program and the same Earth is available for our grandkids and our grandkids’ grandkids,” Coots said.

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