Plastic foam cups are off the menu at all campus Dining Services locations starting this semester, one of the first orders put in by new Sustainability Coordinator Carrie-Lynn Black.
The move is turning heads, as Jacksonville University is one of only two Aramark-served campuses out of dozens in the South to go fully polystyrene foam-free. Of Chick-fil-A’s hundreds of regional locations, for example, JU’s is one of the first to convert completely to International Paper’s “ecotainer” packaging products for its cups.
“Polystyrene foam can take hundreds of years to decompose,” said Black, who started at the University last fall in her newly created position. “These cups are certified biodegradable and fully recyclable within our University’s recycling program. This is part of a continuing push in a new era for JU, and it keeps with our core values.”
Those values include preparing students to be “work-ready” by modeling trends in the workplace, committing to University-wide sustainability, and creating an environment for students to test out and refine ideas and strategies to help improve JU’s efforts, which can then be applied in the workplace upon graduation.
Students are giving their stamp of approval to the foam-free move.
Emily Adams of Arlington, a junior Honors student studying management, is Sustainability Chair for the Jacksonville University Student Alliance. She said going natural just seems natural for JU. It’s located on the St. Johns River, under a beautiful canopy of oak trees, offer majors and minors in sustainability and is home to the LEED Gold-certified Marine Science Research Institute.
“When the University makes a statement like going foam-free, it shows that we care about the impact our institution has on the environment,” she said. “Our switch is a sign that the institution is putting a greater focus on sustainability, something I am very excited to be a part of.”
The term “Styrofoam” is commonly misused to describe the material in food service items such as cups, but it is actually the name of a brand and type of polystyrene foam that is used mostly in industry, and not in retail packaging. A relatively small but growing number of universities across the country have adopted foam-free dining in recent years as part of their sustainability efforts and to improve their students’ overall quality of life.
According to International Paper, the ecotainers are made from fully renewable resources entirely in the U.S. The fiber comes from responsibly managed forests, and the cups meet Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Chain of Custody standards. The cups’ coating and lids use Ingeo biopolymer, a plant-based material, and the cups are fully compostable, which can cut waste going to landfills.
Eric Evans, General Manager for Aramark’s Dining Services, and Wesley Texas, Retail Manager for Chick-fi-A and Starbucks on campus, agree the foam-free move makes sense, was done at relatively low cost and mimics corporate social responsibility trends that are re-examining companies’ environmental footprints.
“We definitely need to prepare for the future, and you have to start somewhere,” Texas said. “At JU, getting rid of the foam cups definitely makes us a trend-setter among Chick-fil-As.”
Black, who has a Master of Science in Environmental Planning and Management from Johns Hopkins University, previously worked as Program Director for the Green Team Project, a Jacksonville-based non-profit seeking to educate and support individuals and businesses on ways to incorporate more environmentally sustainable actions into their everyday practices.
She credited JU President Tim Cost, Senior Vice President for Financial and Facilities Management David Healy, MSRI Executive Director Dr. Quinton White, Geography & Sustainability Professor Dr. Ashley Johnson, Chair of Biology & Marine Science Dr. Nisse Goldberg and Professor of Sociology Dr. Laura Atkins as key players having the vision to create her new position.
Having a Sustainability Coordinator is in keeping with the University’s Healthy Campus initiative, which seeks to enhance the wellness of students, faculty, staff and alumni to become lifelong health conscious and active citizens. Black’s position is funded from JU’s Florida EPIC (Entrepreneurism, Policy, Innovation, and Commerce) Program, which encourages students and professors from multiple disciplines to collaborate with industry experts to solve challenging problems.
“Our students are going to be better prepared for the green economy, for life and for the world. One day, they’ll be paying their own electric and water bills, and they will be wondering how they can conserve,” Black said. “This is moving JU forward on the forefront of sustainability, while also complementing our academics.”