New Blue Wall Initiative Emphasizes Sustainable Practice By Ryan Donovan

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS – Evan McDaid entered Blue Wall, a dining common at the University of Massachusetts looking for a meal to-go on his way home from class. McDaid approached the sushi line and ordered his meal, but when he completed his transaction at the counter, he was confused as to why he had not been given the traditional paper to-go cup.

Blue Wall is a dining common at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that serves upwards of 10,000 students and faculty per day. Sunday, February 26, 2017. Credit: Ryan Donovan.

As part of a new sustainability initiative, the student government association (SGA) has teamed up with UMass Dining to limit the amount of non-renewable products used by students and faculty. With this initiative, Blue Wall has urged consumers to use their reusable cups opposed to their paper cups and plastic straws and covers.

SGA Secretary of Sustainability Ainsley Brosnan-Smith was a leader in this initiative, acknowledging a change had to be made in order to live up to the University’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.

Student Government Association Secretary of Sustainability Ainsley Brosnan-Smith, pictured, works at her desk in the Student Union, her reusable water bottle by her side, something she says she never leaves home without in hopes of setting an example. Amherst, Massachusetts. Monday, February 27, 2017. Credit: Ryan Donovan.

“We went to a zero waste conference and thought this would be a great idea,” Brosnan-Smith said. “As part of a larger worldwide movement, we want to reduce the temptation to use these harmful materials and propel people forward to think about how they’re affecting the environment.”

The "Sustainability Monster," located at the back entrance of Blue Wall, reminds students to recycle their eating materials after completing their meals. Amherst, Massachusetts. Monday, February 27, 2017. Credit: Ryan Donovan.

A Blue Wall manager agreed, saying the initiative has cut down use of paper and plastic significantly since it began this semester. They also noted although the dining common encourages students to use reusable bottles or cups, the paper option is still available to students who ask.

Next to all of the soda machines in Blue Wall lie stacks of reusable cups (pictured on the right) accessible to students at no extra cost. The SGA and Blue Wall staff urge students to use these cups, or their own, opposed to the paper option when they dine in. Amherst, Massachusetts. Monday, February 27, 2017. Credit: Ryan Donovan.

Brosnan-Smith described the initiative as being in its infantile stages, stating there are no concrete statistics on how much waste will be reduced or how much money will be saved as a result.

“It’s going to be a permanent thing,” she said. “But it’s still too early to tell how much of an impact it will have on the overall cost and reduction. From what I know, it’s trending in the right direction.”

Educating students on the initiative has been difficult according to Brosnan-Smith, however. She is confident over time students will acclimate with the idea.

To accelerate that education process, she said the SGA will purchase reusable glass straws with a $1,200.00 dollar grant from Patagonia, and hand them out to students in Blue Wall to incentivize using their own personal bottles.

McDaid, a junior biochemistry major, said he was frustrated at first, but understood and praised the initiative.

“At first, it was an inconvenience because if I wanted to bring my drink back to my house, I couldn’t. But now, I just use my own water bottle or specifically ask for a to-go cup.”

Brosnan-Smith noted that the initiative has had mixed reviews, but overall, students have been adaptive to the idea.

“I think they understand what we are trying to do,” she said. “At first, a lot of people thought we were trying to take their stuff away, but when they realized it was to reduce waste, most people were receptive.”

UMass Dining was recently ranked number one in the country by the Princeton Review in large part for its innovation in sustainable research and practice. They have an entire team and website dedicated to their efforts in making UMass Dining an industry leader.

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