In an effort to reduce plastic waste on campus, Undergraduate Student Government’s Sustainability Committee will give away more than 300 sets of bamboo cutlery at the Ohio Union this week.
“Plastic? Fork It Over!” will run Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day as a way to educate students about how much waste they produce and to help reduce campus dependence on disposable utensils.
“Plastic silverware can’t be recycled in Columbus or at OSU,” said Tyler Hoerst, deputy director of the committee and a fourth-year in environment, economy, development and sustainability. “We want everyone to be aware of what their waste is, (because) it goes somewhere, and not everyone thinks about it.”
That “somewhere” is a landfill, where plastic utensils can sit for nearly 50 years before completely biodegrading, releasing methane in the process. Methane is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and accelerates Earth’s warming 25 times faster than carbon dioxide because it traps more ultraviolet radiation, according to the EPA website.
Additionally, sometimes throwing disposable cutlery in the recycling bin can lead to even more waste in landfills if too many nonrecyclable materials enter the mix and render the entire bin’s contents unusable.
Hoerst said he and other volunteers hope to raise awareness about the impacts of plastic waste on the environment and how students can be more environmentally friendly.
The reusable cutlery is composed of sustainably sourced bamboo, meaning it’s made from a renewable resource and there aren’t the same harmful chemicals in the plastic utensils that would otherwise go in your mouth, according to To-Go Ware’s website. Each set of To-Go Ware comes with a colorful carrying case made out of recycled plastic bottles, which prevents more plastic from ending up in oceans and landfills.
After receiving the go-ahead from OSU Dining Services last semester, the committee placed six bins around the Union to collect used plastic utensils. Every night at 9 p.m. for the past week, Hoerst bagged up all the plastic waste and hauled it to his house for washing, he said.
Once washed, he said he put all of the utensils into an even larger bin to be showcased during the event to highlight how much plastic is actually thrown away on campus.
In total, Hoerst said he collected and washed 1,223 plastic utensils over a seven-day span. The bin with the highest number of plastic forks, spoons and knives was located next to the ketchup and mustard dispensaries on the west side of the Union just outside Union Market.
“And this is just in the Union,” Hoerst said. “It isn’t the only dining facility that uses plastic utensils.”
Although Hoerst said the number of utensils collected didn’t reach his expectations, at this week’s rate of consumption, customers in the Union alone would use nearly 20,000 plastic utensils per semester.
Samuel Reed, USG’s director of sustainability and a fourth-year in environmental science and ecology, said he wants students to know how much of an impact they have as individuals.
Those who pick up the free utensils will be asked to fill out a survey at the end of the semester about how often they used the cutlery and how convenient it was, said Reed and Hoerst. The data will be reviewed by both the committee and Dining Services to see if a program similar to MyCup, a program that provides students in dorms with a reusable cup to cut back on nonrecyclable cups used for fountain drinks, could be created that mitigates plastic waste.
“The university is trying to be zero waste by 2025,” Reed said. “I think it would be pretty difficult for the university to achieve that if we didn’t phase plastic utensils out.”
But people often need an incentive to make a more environmentally conscious choice, Reed said.
“In terms of convenience, (students) no longer have to wander around looking for a plastic utensil (to eat with),” he said. “It also looks stylish.”