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The Carletonian

Successful Referendum Aims to Cut Cup Waste

< weeks ago Carls hit the polls to vote on five student-proposed referenda requiring CSA funding, all of which passed. Specifically, these proposals were to expand the CSA senate by four positions, to purchase new furniture for the Bald Spot, to create a Paul Wellstone memorial on campus, to improve lighting options at the Cave, and to eliminate paper coffee cups in the dining halls.

This final proposal generated a fair bit of buzz around campus. Advocates of the referendum erected a pyramidal paper cup display in Sayles demonstrating the number of cups used per meal to emphasize their argument that the cups create unnecessary waste. Meanwhile, opponents suggested that students might steal the cups and questioned whether the proposal had a fighting chance of passing. As CSA president Matthew Fitzgerald ’14 remarked, “Some folks have voiced doubts about feasibility because they are afraid students will keep the cups,” adding, “While I can sympathize, I think the vote demonstrates that we can collectively agree to the spirit of the program and complete the cycle.”

This week I had the opportunity to ask Sarah Lukins ‘15, co-president of Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment, for some background information and commentary about this newly passed referendum:

KK: How did this proposal come about?

SL: Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment (SOPE) has been trying to remove the paper cups for at least the last three years. We felt that the amount of waste being generated and the initial input energy of making the cups could not justify the convenience of taking them out of the dining halls. We go through roughly 6000 cups per week at a cost of about $27,000 per year. As Carleton students, I think we pride ourselves on being a fairly sustainability- minded student body, and the take-out cups are just blatantly inconsistent with that belief. We’ve gone through many versions of the plan, and what we’re looking at now is a model that loosely follows the one at Bates College, where students return mugs to the dining halls for them to be washed and then put out for the next meal.

KK: In retrospect how confident were you that the proposal would pass?

SL: Although we had our fingers crossed, we were not that confident that we would get the vote. The paper cups are everyone’s favorite type of tupperware and they are unquestionably a nice service that the college provides. I think that the support we received is indicative that students are bothered by the amount of waste that we are generating and are willing to embrace a more sustainable alternative.

This proposal unquestionably gets the ball rolling. The $8500 is by no means enough to implement the program, but it is a step in the right direction, and probably more importantly, it shows that students are in support, which has been one of our biggest hurdles.

KK: What do you think that the impact of this proposal will be?

SL: If we can properly institute this program then we should be producing significantly less waste. As someone who has picked apart Carleton’s waste, I can attest to the fact that there are a lot of cups (also the cups are compostable, I don’t know why I keep finding them in the trash, but that ‘s another story). The success of the program really hinges on how cooperative students are in returning cups; we can only have so many in rotation to make this cost-effective, and if they disappear, it will jeopardize the program. We’re still trying to secure other funding, work out the cup specifications, and determine who will be responsible for the cup collection.

KK: What are some good next steps that we could take toward sustainability at Carleton?

SL: As students there are a lot of things that can be done to be more sustainable, which include reducing electricity and waste production. Those are important aims, but I also hope and think a more tangible impact will come from taking on a more political role. Currently the Climate Justice Coalition along with a group of alumni are working on divesting from oil companies and there are others protesting against the Keystone Excel pipeline. I hope that we can have more dialogue about our role as a college in perpetuating or preventing climate change.

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