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Reusable bags save university money, but annoy students toting meals home

Rick Schanz / Managing content editor

Ohio State Campus Dining Services decided to join the campus-wide effort to “go green” this fall by making the switch from plastic bags to black, reusable polyester bags, although a change back to plastic bags is expected.

Before this fall, plastic bags had been available at most campus dining locations for students to carry their meals home in.

At the beginning of Autumn Quarter, more than 10,000 reusable bags were distributed to students in an effort to replace their plastic counterparts. Students did not have to pay for the bags and they are still available.

Tim Keegstra, associate director of facilities for Campus Dining Services, said the switch was the next logical step for the university.

“There were several committees, including the President’s Committee of Sustainability, that were behind the switch,” Keegstra said. “We have evolved as a university and following the California controversy, a lot of committees on campus decided to talk about it.”

Keegstra is referring to California’s proposal to ban plastic bags statewide. The bill was rejected in September.

The university was leaning toward reusable bags for the entire year of 2010. Orange reusable bags were available to purchase for $1 in residence dining halls, he said. Since then, the black polyester bags were distributed in the fall at no cost to students.

The orange bags were purchased with Campus Dining Services money, Keegstra said.

The reusable black bags that were distributed, not sold, were also bought with Campus Dining Services money. Keegstra said sustainability committees are reimbursing the money as part of campus’s sustainability project.

The transition was not the smoothest, Keegstra said.

“I think we could have done a better job communicating with the committees that were making the decisions,” he said. “But we did get the bags out quickly and effectively in my opinion.”

Keegstra said he was unsure of the exact number of bags handed out but every student living in the residence halls should have received at least one. The bags were also distributed at Off-Campus Student Services.

Keegstra said he was not sure how much money the switch saved the university, but said he knows the reason behind the switch was not monetary.

“The impetus was not to save the university money, but to push toward sustainability,” Keegstra said. “After getting rid of the trays, we felt it was the next thing to do.”

More than 100 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

Robert Hayes, operations manager of Marketplace on Neil Avenue, said he has gotten mixed feedback from the students.

“It goes both ways,” Hayes said. “You’ve got your folks that really appreciate the effort to save materials and cost and you’ve got your folks that just complain about the inconvenience.”

Hayes said he keeps a surplus of the black reusable bags and distributes them whenever students need them or ask for them.

The university had switched from plastic bags to “T-shirt bags,” which are more expensive, decomposable bags that were last used in campus dining, Keegstra said. In the long run, replacing the T-shirt bags would save the university money.

“The T-shirt bags are biodegradable,” Keegstra said. “But then we realized that these are 10 or 20 times more expensive than just using reusable ones.”

Marque Reavley, an OSU graduate and sales assistant at the Marketplace in the Ohio Union, said he has heard students complaining all quarter.

“There were tons of complaints,” Reavley said. “They complained about not having bags and not having trays.”

Sean Harvey, a first-year in athletic training, said he felt indifferent toward the new reusable bags.

“People in our dorm have them and carry them,” Harvey said. “I don’t get any use out of them but I don’t really notice the plastic bags being gone, either.”

Keegstra said Campus Dining Services is getting ready to re-stock the black polyester bags within the next few weeks.


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