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Green Cups Program Takes a Spill

After Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment’s (SOPE) five-year battle to establish a reusable cup system, winter term has begun, and reusable cups are no more.

Many students are now wondering, what caused the system to fail? What will happen next?

If granted permission and funding, SOPE’s new initiative will be a one-to-one system in which students receive a cup and are responsible for bringing that cup to the dining hall if they wish to take out a hot drink.

Sarah Lukins ’15, SOPE co-president, said the idea is that students “can wash it, take care of it, and take ownership of it.”

With this system, neither compostable nor reusable cups would be available in the dining halls. However, if students lose their personal cups, they would have the opportunity to purchase a new one.

Last year in a CSA ballot, roughly 1,100 student voted on the reusable cups initiative, and 900 voted in favor of it. With a strong backing from the student body, CSA funded the reusable cup program and SOPE implemented it this fall.

Despite initial support from students, it quickly became clear to both SOPE and Bon Appetit that the system did not work.

Katie McKenna, Bon Appetit General Manager, remembers having doubts “almost instantly” after the implementation of the new system. “When we first put them out, the athletes were the only ones on campus,” she said. “Already, we weren’t getting them back and there wasn’t a whole lot we could do.”

McKenna explained that students misunderstood the situation, thinking it “was a Bon Appetit issue, not a campus initiative.”

The problems escalated when the rest of the students arrived on campus this fall. Students neglected to return their cups to the dining halls. According to McKenna, the cups were being left “all over campus.”

Students were also stashing cups in their rooms. Brent Murcia ’16, SOPE co-president, explained, “We went around during study breaks to collect cups one night and received hundreds.”

According to Colby Seyferth ’15, a dining hall Student Manager, “A lot of people didn’t want to hang onto their cups for too long because they’re too used to just disposing them. It was just a slight inconvenience that they didn’t want to go through.

”One major problem, according to McKenna, was “the destruction of school property,” such partially filled beverages being left in academic buildings.

Murcia commented that “a lot of people think we overlooked the need for bins” in academic and residential buildings.

Rather, SOPE pushed for collection bins, but Lukins said that SOPE “didn’t have institutional support” for collection bins. Likewise, McKenna noted that Carleton doesn’t “have resources to have bins in academic buildings.”

Not only did students not return cups, they threw them in the garbage. McKenna added that in addition to cups in trash cans, “cups were being used for everything: they were the newest form of Tupperware. We got several back that had clearly been used as a spittoon.” Many of the cups were too dirty when returned and had to be discarded.

Dan Bergeson, director of auxiliary services, said that the reusable cup initiative required “a level of trust” but the student body failed to follow through. Lukins believes the initiative didn’t work because “a program like this doesn’t hold anyone accountable.”

Seyferth said that “students were more up to the idea as a theoretical solution rather than being in charge of actually bringing their cups back.”

McKenna also highlighted the issue of voting carelessly. “SOPE’s intentions were nothing but good. But, how many people on campus thoughtfully voted for this or just voted?”

For Seyferth, the return of the compostable cups sends the wrong message to the student body. “We voted for this and agreed that we would do it and then didn’t come through, so we kind of got bailed out by the use of the compostable cups again.”

Despite the hurdles of the reusable cup initiative, SOPE will not relent in their push for the removal of disposable cups. Carleton dining halls go through a total 6,000 cups per week or roughly 180,000 per year. With the implementation of a one-to-one system, the amount of waste accumulated would decrease.

Seyferth said that from Bon Appetit’s perspective, the one-to-one system would work well, but questions whether or not students will be receptive. “I think people would not be excited. They might leave the cups in the lounges or forget to bring them” to the dining halls.

McKenna’s question with the one-to-one system is: Will it “eliminate the problem of cups being left in academic buildings?”

Despite some questions, most parties agree that a one-to-one system would hold students accountable.

For Murcia, the goal of the cups initiative was to get “students to, in at least one area of our lives, take personal responsibility for an aspect of our consumption.”

With the one-to-one system, Murcia hopes that “student will think about it on a more personal level.”

In evaluating the cup situation, for Lukins, “the cups themselves are very small.” She wants students to “think about how they can get involved in environmentalism.” If that happens, a reusable cup can be “an emblem of what we stand for.”

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