Dining Needs Help with Sustainability


Natalie Zickel / Villanovan Photography

The University’s dining services have received criticism for insufficient sustainability measures.

Kai da Luz, Staff Writer

According to Dump and Run, Inc., college students average about 640 pounds of solid waste annually. This includes about 500 disposable cups per student. A school like Villanova with an undergraduate student body of about 7,000 would produce more than 2,000 tons of solid waste. Those who participated in the Cat Cabs on 1842 Day know that amount of waste is equivalent to roughly the weight of the Oreo, 72 times over. Furthermore, a school the size of Villanova would amass more than 3.5 million cups annually, cups that are used once and then discarded — just like that.

Climate change and environmental degradation are at the forefront of problems in society today. A species that sometimes treats an incredible but limited planet as unlimited is making more efforts to focus on sustainability. 

Villanova Dining Services seems to take sustainability very seriously. Donahue, Dougherty, St. Mary’s and even the convenience stores display signs promoting sustainability. They even had Veggie Mania in March last year, which saw the featuring of three nutritional vegetarian dishes. But to be honest, these signs and gestures to push sustainability are closer to wishful thinking than efforts to make real change.

All of the dining halls on campus continue to use disposable plates, bowls, cups, lids, boxes and utensils. With many students eating three meals a day in the dining halls, at least three plates or bowls, three cups and three sets of utensils are used per student and are then sent to a landfill. I cannot tell you how many times I have been walking around campus and have seen waste bins overflowing with plates, cups and take-out boxes.

There was a small period last year when permanent ware (reusable ware) returned to Donahue, as students woke up to a dining hall boasting reusable blue bowls and glistening white plates. Sadly this was not to stay, as disposable ware was brought back after what was only a week or two.

According to Dining Services, nothing would delight them more than to return to using permanent ware, but they are limited by staff vacancies, specifically in their “Utility Associate” positions, which are responsible for dish and pot washing operations. 

“We are currently working with Human Resources in developing strategies on how we can attract applicants to fill these important roles for us,” said Director of Dining Services Michael McGuckin. 

Another issue raised was the lack of plant-based food offered by the dining halls.

“There are definitely some options right now, but they are not available at all of the dining halls and are usually not advertised to students,” senior Shannon Brown said. “Additionally, students that do know about them have to ask. The burgers and chicken sandwiches in Dougherty are usually out front and center, but you have to ask for a veggie burger.” 

Brown spoke on behalf of the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) and the efforts it has taken working with dining to push for a more sustainable campus. 

“I hope to see a return to using dishes, silverware and cups, but I understand that they are a bit understaffed right now and that it is hard to make that a priority,” Brown said.

Brown explained that dining has been very receptive to SSC concerns in the past, except for its desire to give plant-based food a greater presence in the dining hall. Brown and the SSC were excited to see the arrival of beyond burgers to Belle Air Terrace, but they believe there is still more to be done in offering more plant-based eats.

There is also the issue of sustainability blunders concerning dining. The first is the brown agave straws that can be found all over the University. While their environmental benefits are obvious, it only takes one use to realize that every straw somehow already has multiple cracks and holes.

The second is the recently introduced and then modified “sippy” cup lids at Holy Grounds. Senior Jackie Carroll recently wrote an article denouncing this sustainable “innovation.” 

To Dining Service’s credit, they eventually responded to both issues this month, bringing back functional clear straws that are still environmentally friendly, and replacing the dreaded lids that would stain your Sunday best with tighter fitting ones.

With these examples, we can see that some changes with sustainability in mind fall short. Still, there is so much that can be done.

“Composting and putting out more recycling bins would be helpful,” sophomore Carter Smith said. “There are a lot of things we get from Belle Air Terrace that can be recycled.”

Sustainability is a priority for Smith, as he and his family compost and use reusable items whenever possible. Other than switching to permanent ware, Smith believes there is a way that sustainability can continue outside of the dining halls with takeout.

“In the future, Villanova could set up drop-off locations in residence halls for students to deposit Tupperware and other items used for take-out from the dining hall,” Smith said.

There are plenty of things we can do more sustainably in dining. But Dining Services cannot do it all. 

“Sometimes the issues come from higher up areas in the university that Dining Services cannot solve directly,” Brown said.

It seems that sometimes, Dining Services has its hands tied, which would help explain its slow reaction to problems like the Holy Grounds lids.

If we want a more sustainable campus in the future, if we want to do our part in reducing the damage we are doing to the planet, we need to be more conscious about the sheer quantity and frequency with which we use and then discard single-use items. 

This requires a holistic effort, one that cannot be completely left to Dining Services. As an entity, it must continue to take steps to reintroduce permanent ware to the dining halls and strive to provide more plant-based dishes. As a University, we need to allocate more resources to assist Dining Services in making this happen and make sustainability an integral part of what we do here, rather than just something we put on signs and social media. As a student body, we need to make a conscious effort towards small sacrifices here and there, utilizing reusable ware of our own whenever possible, but also by speaking up and making our voices heard. 

As a Catholic university, we are called to be stewards of creation, all the more reason to take steps today into becoming the sustainable university we know we can be.