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Reusable, Compostable Utensils Becoming the Norm at Swarthmore

Reusable utensils (left) along with compostable wooden utensils (right)

Reusable utensils provided to first-year students (left) and single-use, compostable utensils for takeout (right) are part of the College's plan to become a zero waste campus by 2035.

Swarthmore once again provided first-year students with a set of reusable utensils and now offers single-use, compostable utensils for takeout in the new Dining Center — the latest examples of the College’s commitment to sustainability.

The reusable utensils are sustainable swag aimed to nudge new students toward sustainable practices. In contrast to single-use utensils that are thrown away, they will help mitigate pollution, says Clare Hyre, associate director of sustainability, adding that the hope is for “reusable alternatives to become the norm” on campus.

In the Dining Center, College community members will now use traditional reusable utensils for dining in, with the option to use lightweight wooden utensils that can be composted after use for takeout meals. The latter will be the standard practice for any takeout and catering services. 

These efforts follow the goals of the College’s 2022 Zero Waste Plan that was adopted in June, which envisions Swarthmore as a zero waste campus by 2035. By introducing compost and recycling alternatives, the College is encouraging students to produce as little waste as possible. Moving away from disposable utensils will have a “tangible local impact,” says Hyre, given that all trash produced on campus is incinerated in the community of Chester, where residents are at risk of being directly impacted by pollutants.  

With widespread educational programming throughout the College, the Office of Sustainability team is aiming for a campus where staff, faculty, and students alike will choose a sustainable lifestyle.

“The College is investing in the systems and infrastructure that are necessary to shift to a zero waste culture, such as the campuswide compost system, reusable alternatives to single-use products, and other operational changes,” says Hyre. “As we pursue a zero waste culture, we also need individual members of the community to participate in these efforts by producing as little waste as possible.”

Clare Hyre“As we pursue a zero-waste culture, we also need individual members of the community to participate in these efforts by producing as little waste as possible," says Hyre.

The team also plans to gradually move toward a complete shift for reusable resources and materials, utilizing sustainable takeout containers, cups, and water bottles, and promoting Worthmore’s Free Store and Move-Out Program on campus.

To help realize the zero waste vision, the College encourages students and other members of the community to be conscious of their own waste production, and to be more mindful of “diverting waste into the correct waste stream,” says Hyre. 

Students can request additional reusable utensil sets if they misplace theirs, and faculty and staff can purchase reusable utensils at the Campus & Community Store. Achieving the ambitious goals of the zero waste program and building a greener future for Swarthmore will require participation from all members of the Swarthmore community. 

Adopting a zero waste lifestyle takes a mindset shift, but Hyre believes it is possible on Swarthmore’s campus. Along with finding ways to reduce waste brought on to campus and properly diverting waste, students can take academic courses that discuss waste and environmental justice, participate in zero waste-related student groups, or look for a job with the Office of Sustainability.

Additionally, participating in programming like the Sustainability Book Club or attending Office of Sustainability events on campus (led by students or the Office of Sustainability staff) are great ways to stay engaged with zero waste at Swarthmore, says Hyre.

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