Sustainability suppresses community spread: Pandemic packaging a success

A reusable container program for grab-and-go solutions helped keep students safe this fall as SUNY New Paltz closed out the semester with low numbers of COVID-19 among on-campus community members.

“Many campuses started the fall with indoor dining in their dining halls and several of those campuses saw spikes in COVID-19 cases that forced them to move to grab-and-go only,” said General Manager of Dining Services at SUNY New Paltz Kevin Dicey. “We started out with grab-and-go only and Sodexo has done this in a highly sustainable way.”

At the start of the semester, New Paltz Dining Services adopted new protocols to ensure that students could safely enjoy meals on campus with a single, comprehensive dining plan.

On-campus food venues operated as grab-and-go, indoor dining areas were closed and all students were provided with reusable container kits – that included a to-go container, a drink cup, a soup/salad bowl, and a set of utensils – to safely pick up and carry out their meals through the College’s WasteWatch REUSE program.

“Our campus community has done a tremendous job holding the coronavirus levels low and keeping each other safe,” said Dicey. “The College’s commitment to finding a sustainable packaging solution during the pandemic has been an integral part of this achievement.”

WasteWatch REUSE is a reusable container program that was designed to reduce waste by replacing single-use disposable food and beverage containers with reusable containers. Additional and replacement containers were available for purchase, while the starter kit was free to all residential students.

“Through this program, we have significantly reduced waste generation during COVID-19 which is no small feat,” said Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Mitten. “This effort was the outcome of education and outreach led by the student Sustainability Ambassadors in 2019 who were committed to moving away from plastics and investing in reusable products that promote responsible production and consumption.”

Students were required to bring their reusable container kits to pick up grab-and-go meals at Peregrine Dining Hall and were expected to empty their containers into designated receptacles stationed in residence halls and other spaces on campus.

Diners were able to trade their empty kit for a clean one each time they returned to one of the grab-and-go stations at Peregrine Dining Hall. Dining Services staff thoroughly cleaned and sanitized each container kit after use.

Dicey welcomed the challenge to remain committed to sustainability while also keeping students safe. He believes that receptive students were pivotal in the success of the new program and pandemic protocols.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the support and participation of our students on campus,” said Dicey. “The commitment and care for the New Paltz community was clear.”

In addition to the grab-and-go meal service and reusable container policies, on-campus restaurants, cafeterias and food courts adopted additional policies to keep students safe. This included contactless pay options and pickup, one-way traffic in pick up areas, and consistent signage to reinforce traffic patterns and social distancing.

Looking ahead to next semester, Dicey is pleased to report that the College has already committed to providing each student with a full suite of to-go containers when they return for spring 2021.

Read more about Food Services commitment to sustainable options during the COVID-19 pandemic online.