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Since the turn of the century, sustainability has been a buzzword with political connotations. In truth, the concept is as old as the first interactions of humans and nature, beginning with the prehistoric civilizations of hunters and gathers. Their need for fire and their preference for specific foods and meat served as the basis for the idea of sustainability.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainability as “the ability to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; able to last or continue for a long time.” In the timeline of human-nature co-existence, the meaning of sustainability has evolved from an environmental concern to the present political issues. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Robert Malthus – a British country pastor, demographer and political economist – predicted “that the world’s population would eventually starve … because food production could not keep pace with the growth of population.”

In recent times, the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, attracted 178 countries and thousands of representatives from non-governmental organizations to compile Agenda 21 to establish an international approach to detail a sustainable development strategy. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development marked the beginning of partnerships between the United Nations, national governments and NGOs to advance the concept of incorporating sustainability into everyday lifestyles.

Zooming in to a more specific campaign, the College has initiated one of many sustainability programs; namely, the efforts of the dining services department. Dining services has partnered with the facilities department to install energy efficient lighting and replace windows with more effective ones, among other projects overseen by Paul Lehr, the facilities department’s assistant director. Lance Thornton, director of dining services, shared that he “works closely with Karen Eckert to evaluate current practices and determine new, more effective ideas to continue to implement.”

Pub manager Mary Odhiambo is proud of the efforts being made under the supervision of dining services. Last spring, she traveled to the University of Missouri for a work conference, where she was surprised to find very little recycling and no composting, either in their dining services or the entire campus. She is confident that “we are doing a really good job” with the campus’ sustainability campaign.

Presently, the Pub is using compostable plates, bowls, food boats, cold cups and lids, hot cups with recyclable lids, knives, forks, spoons, and salad and wrap containers and lids. Sources have been obtained to replace current recyclable straws and two-ounce dipping cups and lids with compostable ones. That means that only foil for to-go orders, dining room sauce packets, hot cup lids, and the remaining stock of straws and dipping cups are not compostable; they are recycled, however. Some of the items mentioned above are made from bamboo, cane grass fibers, PLA resin, which is derived entirely from plants, not oil. There is no styrofoam in any products.

Dining services provides a Cambro container, available for a small deposit. It is NSF certified and can be washed and sanitized when returned, then used again. The deposit is returned when the Cambro is permanently returned. This system reduces the use of single-use to-go containers.

Ecolab’s new Apex line of cleaners has replaced previously used cleaning products in dining services. These products come in a compact solid form with a non-caustic chemistry and are made with 95 percent less packaging material. This form reduced transportation shipments to add another layer of sustainability.

Concerted efforts are being made to facilitate effective progress in raising the amount of collected compostable materials to process. Two yellow compost bins are in the dining room with signage to encourage proper composting. There are also two compost bins behind the counter for prep items workers use. The staff is very conscientious about collecting as much as they can to advance the cause. Outside the Pub doors, there are also recycling bins.

Odhiambo said that Principia is one of a small number of colleges that operate a Somat in the kitchen and dish room for both customer and kitchen waste. This unit removes the water content from the waste and then the solid matter, which is 20 percent of its original volume. Then it is used 100 percent for composting. It is collected by Blue Skies Recycling three times a week and taken to a composting facility. The Somat operates on recycled water. “With the Somat System and the use of Blue Skies, we have reduced our landfill waste by 85 percent,” Thornton said.

Dining services has donated its used oil to the biology department to run one of its fleet vehicles and to other independents for biodiesel conversion. All other heavy oil-based waste, including the dregs from fryer washing waters, is sold to a local recycle manufacturer.

Although Odhiambo is pleased with the efforts being made, she wishes that customers were more aware of the signs and that they would take time to sort or just dump all their “trash” in the compost bins. She said that it is as simple as “slowing down to pay attention and care to use the compost bins correctly. That would be fantastic.”

The Environmental Protection Agency gives this simple explanation of the principle of sustainability on its website: “Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends either directly or indirectly on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”