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Duke Dining bans disposable plastic across all campus venues

Chronicle File Photo
Chronicle File Photo

Single-use plastic carryout bags? Not in Duke Dining's 34 campus venues. Plastic straws? Nope. The plastic fork you walked two laps around the Brodhead Center to find? Not anymore.

Duke Dining announced Wednesday that it has banned the use of disposable plastic across its campus locations effective July 1. The move stemmed from national discussion after some cities recently banned plastic straws.

“My thinking was, ‘Why stop at just straws, why not go a step further?’” said Marcus Carson, assistant director of Duke Dining for sustainability and quality control, in the July 11 news release.

Now the plastic carryout bags will be paper bags, and the drinkware, straws and utensils will be made from a biodegradable, plant-based alternative—a Polylactic acid, according to the release. The acid has similar properties as traditional plastics, and it is typically derived from sugar cane or corn starch.

“It’s exciting because everybody understood why it was important and everybody was excited to get the tools that they needed to implement it," Carson said.

Disposable plastic is not the first class of items Duke Dining has banned as it pushes to become more sustainable. It previously eliminated the use of Styrofoam and bleached paper products.

The department's efforts to be sustainable earned it national recognition last summer, when it was given a gold distinction by the National Association of College and University Food Services for its food procurement practices.

There are other, less conspicous aspects of the dining program that contribute to its sustainability, Carson wrote in an email last summer. Marketplace's compostable containers are used where composting is accessible, and Duke Dining partners with a student organization to funnel unserved food to shelters in the area.

“We have composting infrastructure, and we have a pretty robust recycling infrastructure on campus. And there are compostable and recyclable alternatives for these products out there, and the price point has come down significantly since when they were introduced," Carson said in the release. "I thought it was a good time for Duke to stand as a leader in this space and make the full push.”


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