UT fast food should stop using to-go containers

Sarah Alarcon

My guilt was about to swallow me like a python as I threw away my third plastic container from Taco Cabana last week. I felt terrible for creating unnecessary waste. Instead of choosing between my morals and my nacho obsession, why can’t I have both? It’s time for UT’s fast food restaurants to take sustainability to the next level and create a reusable to-go container system for students.

Contrary to the actions of the Trump administration, climate change is real. As our planet warms, we experience many changes, including more intense hurricanes such as Hurricane Harvey.

Landfill disposal of solid waste represents one of the largest sources of global methane emission. Since climate change is a serious threat, creating excess waste is an issue that needs to be addressed more aggressively.

Along with protecting our planet, a more sustainable dining solution would be healthier for students. A British study showed  that sitting down and focusing more on a meal helps mental satiation. If we implemented a reusable dish option in the Student Activity Center and Texas Union, then UT would be encouraging healthier eating practices. We would eliminate the need for to-go containers and students would be able to mentally realize they were full and not overeat.

In the case that students need to take food to-go, we need to have an eco-friendly option.

Every coffee shop I’ve been to on campus has accepted my reusable mug, and most places give a discount. So why can’t the same principle be applied to a to-go container?  Henry Jackson, Aramark food service director, explained that reusable to-go containers wouldn’t work because there is no sink to wash the container, it would interrupt the systematic operations, it would be difficult to maintain food temperatures and it’s not convenient. So, we should add a sink, create a new system and find a way to maintain proper food temperatures. Fast food restaurants could copy the Eco2Go program similar to the one used by Housing and Food Service. We need to stop letting convenience excuse our wasteful behavior and focus on solutions.

Alumna Christa Rhea did just that through a green fee proposal. Her goal was to reduce the amount of single use and non-compostable packaging in the UT Unions. While her project achieved successes, such as switching from styrofoam to compostable cups at Chick-fil-A, Rhea experienced frustration working with Aramark and Union representatives. “Students are supposed to have a voice in the student union, but we were not being heard,” Rhea said. 

The Union needs to act, and we need to do our part, too. We could stop the production of to-go coffee mugs tomorrow if every student packed a mug in their bag. We are the ones that create roughly 50,000 transactions every week at fast food restaurants. If we want to be stewards of our home, then we need to keeping asking and pushing until we get responsible results.

In a couple of decades, when we are asked what we did to prevent climate change, I hope we will say that we got creative and gave up convenience.

Alarcon is a UTeach Liberal Arts student from Austin.