Sustainability Task Force perfecting program to reduce trash

Cornell College students are teaming up with Cornell’s food service, Bon Appétit, to reduce the amount of waste produced during mealtime. 

Cali Pfleger '20 holds up the new reusable to-go containers
Pfleger gathers signatures for reusable container program

Cali Pfleger ’20 is leading the way on a pilot project to eliminate the use of the current, disposable to-go boxes and replace them with reusable containers.

“I want to show people that their voice matters and that change can happen,” Pfleger said.

Pfleger worked with Danielle Polson ’18 and the rest of the Sustainability Task Force–which consists of students, faculty, and staff–to kick off the project at the end of last year. This year the Sustainability Task Force is continuing the trial period of the program to make it as convenient as possible with hopes of converting everyone to this fully-reusable container model as soon as possible.

“We want to reduce the environmental and economic impact that the compostable paper boxes create,” Polson said. “The paper boxes are often thrown into recycling bins, contaminating other items. This drastically increases the school’s trash output.”

The group brought the idea to Bon Appétit management, and they were immediately on board. The task force worked to get 100 people to try the new containers last April and May, and they didn’t have any issues with gaining interest from students. In fact, they had all of their participants after only advertising for one day.

“We developed the logistics last winter with the Sustainability Task Force and, with the help of our marketing department, created a redemption card so students could return their used containers for washing and either take a new container or receive the card that could be redeemed for another reusable container on their next occasion to take something to go,” said Bon Appétit at Cornell Executive Chef David Smigo.

The students say they’re learning a lot about sustainability in their classes, so it was time to put their education to use.

“As a double major in geology and environmental studies I have taken classes that have provided me with the knowledge and power to implement the goals of environmentally conscious people here on campus,” Pfleger said. “When I talk to my peers about my ideas, they always respond with ‘Why aren’t we doing that already?’ I want to be an advocate for not only the environment but for the environmentally conscious students, staff, and faculty here at Cornell.”

The Sustainability Task Force and Bon Appétit aren’t stopping there, either. They have bigger goals of eventually implementing reusable silverware, cups, and straws.

“We are currently searching for a suitable hot and cold tumbler cup to replace the to-go drinkware,” Smigo said. “This will go hand-in-hand with the reduction of small-size bottled water sales on campus and the introduction of some water-filling stations. We will also be going strawless this year Bon Appétit-wide.”

Professor of Geology Rhawn Denniston, chair of the Sustainability Task Force, is impressed by the team’s work and dedication.

“For the last year, Cali has been the driving force of the task force,” Denniston said. “Bon Appetit has been incredibly supportive of these efforts. James Richards and David Smigo clearly want to improve the sustainability of the college. It’s been a pleasure to work with them.”

Pfleger wants to continue to improve this project and has plans to implement many other sustainability projects across campus to create change. She just hopes her hard work makes a difference.

“I want to make a lasting impact here at Cornell and help guide a path for those who have the same goals as me,” Pfleger said.