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Although COVID-19 had negative impacts on recycling, Dining Services is improving their sustainable dining options even during the pandemic as they get more information.

Dining Services was concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19 with touchpoints. Disposable packaged cutlery was introduced in all the dining halls on campus as a safer option amid COVID-19.

But, disposable cutlery and take-out containers have created more garbage.

“Safety has become the biggest factor,” Marty Johnson, director of dining services, said. “If we are making decisions, we have to look at what is the safest we can do.”

Disposable packaged cutlery is not being used for the dining-in option at Mensa anymore; however, they are still available for take-out options and in all the other dining halls.

“I think what we have found since the school year started is, with the contact tracing, typically with COVID-19 it has been transmitted through direct contact, not so much through indirect contact,” Johnson said. “We did make a decision to move away from the packaged cutlery for everybody, to having it just for the take-out option.”

The Sustainability Office has considered getting reusable containers in Mensa, according to Carina Collet, a fourth-year English major who is also a manager at the Sustainability Office. Students would need to buy the first container. Every time they come to Mensa they will bring their dirty one in and take a clean one to use. 

“Climate change is a now issue, it is a past issue and it is a tomorrow issue,” Collet said. 

Even though Wartburg implemented new rules, including removing trays from Mensa and the food software management program which allows for food waste tracking, to be more sustainable, not every student recycles on campus. Isaac Nguyen, a second-year student from San Diego, California, also a student worker in the Den, recycled in his first year, but does not practice it anymore.

“When I was working in the Den, I found out that people in the Den just put all the recycling and the trash together, even though they are separated,” Nguyen said. “I did not think there was a point because I do not know any places where I can actually recycle.”

The recycling bins in the dining services do not go to recycling due to health concerns. Collet was not aware of this issue at the time of the interview but said she would look into the issue. 

“You do not want to be handling somebody’s food and handle their trash and then go back to handling food again,” Johnson said. While the recycling bins in the dining halls are sent to the trash, the general recycling bins are collected by the Waverly Recycling Center.

The reason behind why the recycling bins in dining halls go to the trash is people do not recycle in those properly. If contaminated garbage is thrown in recycling, it makes the whole bin non-recyclable, according to Collet.

“Generally, clean plastics numbers 1 through 5 and number 7 are recyclable, number 6 has to go to the trash at least in Waverly,” Collet said. “Clean metals, cans, water bottles, paper, and cardboard are recyclable, the rest such as plastic bags and contaminated packages need to go to garbage.”

Wartburg students who take out food from dining halls can recycle their main meal paper boards and paper boats if they are clean. The salad and dessert containers need to go to the garbage, as well as the cold drink cups. Hot drink cups are recyclable, while the lids are not. The salad containers from Konditorei are also recyclable. 

Collet’s last suggestions to students are to reduce their waste, dine in the Mensa whenever they can and use reusable containers. 

For more information about the Sustainability Office or to receive updates, find the Sustainability Office on Facebook. 


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