LEO MKT transitioned to reusable dishes and cutlery this semester as part of a broader campus pivot toward more sustainable dining practices.
Previously, the food stalls on the main floor of Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall exclusively used disposable cutlery and dishware. The trash bins in upstairs Leo’s are now accompanied by racks, which are taken down to the dish room where used tableware is washed along with used dishes from the Fresh Food Company, according to a Jan. 6 Hoya Hospitality announcement. Compostable containers are still available by request for students taking their food to go.
The transition to reusable utensils in upstairs Leo’s was led by a collaboration among Georgetown University’s Office of Sustainability, campus environmental advocacy groups and Hoya Hospitality, the university’s food provider, according to Director of the Office of Sustainability Audrey Stewart.
“We were thrilled to collaborate with student environmental clubs, Auxiliary Business Services and Hoya Hospitality last semester to help plan the reusable tableware initiative, and are glad to be able to take this additional step, in coordination with LEO MKT, to increase sustainability outcomes on campus,” Stewart wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network, one of the clubs involved in the effort, has been pushing to institute reusable tableware for years, according to GREEN President Noelle Gignoux (SFS ’22). The cost of transitioning away from single-use dishes and utensils posed a significant challenge to the push for the new system, according to Gignoux.
The new dining system will drastically cut back waste, according to Gignoux.
“It’s easy to write off the amount of waste that used to be produced upstairs, because we never actually see the sheer magnitude of waste that we produce,” Gignoux wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This new setup makes infinitely more sense because we are instantly cutting down on garbage that goes directly into the landfill.”
GREEN members Amelia Walsh (SFS ’20) and Caroline Flibbert (COL ’21) began advocating for more sustainable dining practices in Leo’s in Fall 2017, according to Flibbert. After about two years of meetings with Georgetown and Aramark, their student-led activism eventually yielded funding from the Business Auxiliary Officer to pay for reusable tableware.
“What we pitched to Aramark and the business auxiliary office over and over again was just to go back to reusable cutlery, reusable tableware and we did receive a lot of pushback at first because of the potential cost issues,” Flibbert said in an interview with The Hoya. “We managed to break through those talks, which had spanned over two years now, and received the funding for reusable tableware to get back to honestly being a more sustainable dining hall experience.”
Reusable plates and flatware were used throughout upstairs Leo’s before the 2017 renovations, according to Associate Director of Business and Operations David Schoen. Upstairs Leo’s switched to disposable materials because of the student body’s request for more on-the-go options. However, Leo’s soon realized that too much waste was being generated by the increased use of paper products, Schoen wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In addition to reducing waste, switching to reusable tableware will help improve Georgetown Dining’s post-consumer composting, according to Schoen.
“We are glad to be able to make the switch to reusable plateware and flatware, which overall is more environmentally-friendly and sustainable than disposable flatware,” Schoen wrote. “This will reduce the amount of paper waste generated and will allow for more accurate sorting of food waste, which is diverted from the waste stream to be composted.”
Preparations were made at the end of last semester and over break to have the new system ready by the start of the spring semester, Schoen added.
“The reusable materials arrived on site at the end of the Fall semester, and all materials were set up over the winter break,” Schoen wrote. “Signage has been added to help direct students, faculty, staff, and guests on where to place their plateware when they are done eating, and all food service staff have been trained on transport, washing, and stocking procedures.”
The change follows a campuswide shift toward more environmentally friendly practices. In January, the university established the Laudato Si’ Fund, which sets aside $300,000 in grants to help fund student-, faculty- and staff-proposed projects that seek to combat local and global sustainability challenges. In September, 50 students living on and off campus began composting their residential food in a pilot program organized by Compost Cab, a compost pickup service, and GREEN.
Even though the upstairs Leo’s transition represents a positive step toward eco-friendly habits, the university should expand its efforts to other areas on campus, according to Gignoux.
“The next issue to tackle would hopefully be the dining options in the Leavey center, such as getting recycling in Royal Jacket and reusable options there, as well as reusable dishware options at the other dining services,” Gignoux wrote. “Composting is also another area in which Georgetown has room to improve — GREEN has been taking steps to make it more accessible to the student body, but it would be fantastic to see the university step up on this issue and offer more post-consumer composting options, as well as education on the issue.”
The decision by Georgetown and Aramark, the university’s food service provider, to introduce reusable tableware sets a valuable precedent in sustainable practices, Gignoux wrote.
“This is a huge step because it shows that the university and Aramark recognize their responsibility to be good environmental stewards, setting an example for the students that pass through the university that our small, everyday actions have large environmental consequences,” Gignoux wrote.
Student-led advocacy’s success in the Leo’s Goes Green initiative should inspire other student activists to take action for their cause, Flibbert said.
“We definitely thought that this was an excellent process that definitely shows that students can take initiative and run with it, generate enough support and actually have a positive outcome at this school which I think is the biggest takeaway from this project,” Flibbert said. “If you see an issue on campus that you think needs to be addressed, just go out and address it.”
This article has been updated to include Walsh and Flibbert’s perspective.