By Brianna Forte
“I feel like people are throwing sustainability out the window in order to take precautions against the virus,” sighed Christian Pagel, a sophomore majoring in marine biology and the Student Government Representative of the Student Organization for Sustainable Action.
According to the Wall Street Journal sales of bottled water, masks and wipes all made from plastic have greatly increased, while some recycling programs are being suspended because of concerns about the virus spreading. Habits are changing around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including here at Florida Tech.
As of Mar. 27, Florida Tech dining services have switched to take-out only, which has increased the plastic consumption among diners on campus according to the associate director of dining services, Evan Olsen.
“Our goal with doing take-out is to keep as much of the experience the same as it would be, so students can still come in and see all the servers and have access to all the stations,” Olsen said. “We’ll be serving the food into the container, they just won’t be able to sit down and eat here.”
The takeout containers across dining locations on campus are made of compostable material. “The main containers we’re using for take-out are fibrous containers made from post-consumer materials,” Olsen said. “So, they’re on their second life anyway and they biodegrade really well.”
“We’ve been working with Quinn and Dr. Lindeman for a long time trying to keep as eco-friendly as we can possibly be,” said Thomas Stewart, the director of dining services.
Stewart expressed regret having to switch to take-out because of the decline in sustainability but hopes that using compostable containers will help people stay safe while also decreasing plastic use. “Unfortunately, even using the right products puts more into the environment than we would like.”
Even with the increase in single-use containers, dining services are still working to increase their sustainability in other aspects. “The sheer numbers and volume of what we’re doing obviously as they dwindle down, saves a lot of energy and manpower,” Olsen said.
Stewart added that because the university has switched to take-out, there will be no need to use the dishwashing machines, “which is huge in terms of energy saving.”
Florida Tech’s sustainability officer, Quinn Duffy, explained that there will be both increases and decreases in sustainability on campus during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“If you look at this from a carbon footprint perspective for the university, our footprint is going down,” Duffy said. “The waste category might have some increases but there’s a major decrease everywhere else in terms of energy, water, and transportation.”
Duffy also recommends using this time during social isolation for students to work on individual sustainable practices.
“Adapting to more of a minimalist, sustainable, green idea of living during this time is probably going to be easier for people,” Duffy said. “Especially because we have to adjust our entire behavior to meet the goals of society right now, which is keeping everyone safe.”
Pagel suggested that people should invest in a Brita filter instead of buying crates of bottled water in a panic. She also suggested that students buy reusable glass tupperware.
“When you go to stores you can ask them to fill your containers instead of using a plastic or styrofoam container,” Pagel explained. “A lot of stores will do that, especially if you mention dietary concerns.”
Taylor Greene, the president of SOSA, acknowledged that some practices such as using reusable bags can be dangerous due to the spreading germs.
“If you have to give up some aspects of your sustainable habits, now is a great time to try to find new ways to be sustainable in areas you haven’t touched yet,” Greene said.
Greene encouraged students to be very mindful of their habits, such as trying to use less energy even while they are at home and unplugging electronics when they’re not using them. “Try and see how you can make minor adjustments as you make this major adjustment.”