In an effort to reduce plastic waste, all eight College Houses will begin using reusable cups in place of traditional single-use cups this semester. Last year, the College Houses used over 25,000 plastic cups, according to the College’s Sustainability Office. The initiative, proposed by College House eco reps last semester, has been met with mixed reactions from students.
Each House voted on the proposal before purchasing the cups with money from their yearly budgets, allocated from the Office of Residential Life (ResLife). Howell House, the chem-free College House, purchased 100 cups, while the other seven College Houses, which typically serve alcohol at parties, purchased 400 cups each.
Many House residents expressed apathy about the plan.
“Since our eco rep really wanted it, [residents] were like, ‘Whatever he feels passionately about, I’ll just vote for it.’ Very few people were very excited about it,” said Grace Bukowski-Thall ’20, a resident of Burnett House.
Whereas some Houses, such as Ladd, passed the initiative when it was first proposed, others voted multiple times before the measure passed. Burnett held several unofficial votes before a majority of House members were convinced to vote in favor.
Despite the environmental benefits of saving plastic cups, some students expressed concerns about hygiene, cup size and stealing.
“I think it’s a little unsanitary especially if it is sitting in cupboards for a while and not washed right away. I think we maybe had two or three campus-wides the whole semester, so that is a couple week spans and the cups are just sitting,” Bukowski-Thall said.
However, the cups are dishwasher safe, and each College House is responsible for washing them. Four of the eight Houses have dishwashers, while Houses without dishwashers will be responsible for coordinating times to use another House’s dishwasher.
“We’re getting constantly nagged by our housekeeper that we have dirty dishes in the sink, so from most people’s perspective we were not going to wash those cups at all,” Bukowski-Thall said. “The idea of having 400 plastic cups when we have one tiny dishwasher seemed ridiculous.”
The eco-reps understand that this added chore may worry some residents, but they believe that a systematic schedule for washing the cups will alleviate the stress.
“It is definitely a lot of washing that needs to be done but it’s not necessarily time consuming,” said Baxter House Eco-Rep Jessi Friedman ’20. “How my house might start doing it is setting up time for people to come to the kitchen and switch the cups. We have 400 cups, and the dishwasher holds 50, so that’s eight people signing up to give five minutes on a Sunday.”
Students also expressed concern that the cups would be more likely to spread disease. This concern is especially prevalent because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterized a moderately severe flu season this winter. However, Eco-Reps said that a thorough washing in the dishwasher and safe practices in social settings can prevent the spread of germs.
“The Eco-Reps brought up that several folks have been at parties where everyone dips their drinking vessels straight into a punch bowl, and then refills with the same cup. A reusable cup, run through a House dishwasher, is only a germ carrier when the student isn’t smart about their choices and the repercussions,” wrote Sustainability Outreach Coordinator Bethany Taylor in an email to the Orient.
Health worries aside, students had concerns about the size of the new cups. The cups look smaller than the Solo cups that College Houses have used in the past, but hold the same amount of liquid as a Solo cup.
“People might drink too much because they are used to solo cups. You have this whole new container and you’re in a dark room and its loud and people are just pouring [drinks] for you,” Bukowski-Thall said.
Eco-Reps believe the biggest challenge the cups will pose will be students taking them from the College Houses.
“We’ll end up having amnesty days where if you have any of these in your dorm room turn them in to your Eco-Rep, no questions asked, and we’ll return them,” Taylor said .
Bowdoin Sustainability is not the only college organization to grapple with the environmental impact of college party norms. Greek Go Green, a national organization that promotes sustainability amongst fraternities and sororities, encourages the promotion of reusable utensils, cups and plates in Greek life events.
It is also not the first time that College Houses have tried to reuse cups at parties.
Last year, students tried to combat the issue of excess waste by washing non-reusable cups. The project ended because the cups were not dishwasher safe, and students grew nervous after an unrelated case of mumps was reported on campus.