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Institute replaces paper with china in dining halls

By Henri Fuhrmann

The Institute's dining halls began using china dishes, bowls and reusable tumblers yesterday, as part of a new effort to reduce disposables.

The plan was jointly created by MIT Food Services and Share a Vital Earth (SAVE), a student environmentalist group, in response to a petition that SAVE had distributed in January. Three hundred faculty, students, and staff signed the petition.

ARA had considered using china for some time, but did not have a viable plan to insure dishes would be returned, according to Alan Leo, ARA's general manager of food services. Under the new plan, food will be served on china unless students explicitly request otherwise. Previously, almost all meals had been served on paper plates.

Leo explained that he was concerned with both the proper disposal of recyclables and the amount of china ARA had lost in the past. The new plan brings attention to the harmful effects of disposables, and encourages the proper return of china dishes.

Farhah F. Assaad G, a member of SAVE, was very pleased with ARA's quick response. Leo said that he solicited SAVE's help in devising a workable plan when he received the petition.

The new plan also mandates that ARA replace its bleached paper products with brown paper because of harmful dioxins that bleaching produces. According to the March/April edition of Greenpeace, an environmentalist magazine, 5000 tons of such dioxins are disposed of daily.

In addition, ARA plans to reduce the number of paper cups used on campus, and to provide receptacles for recycling glass. "The only thing stopping the recycling of glass is the lack of recycling pickup services," Leo said. He added that the receptacles will be made available once a working service is in order.

The Hunger Action group and the Homeless Initiative, two other student groups, have also contacted ARA regarding the distribution of excess food to various Cambridge shelters.

Awareness is necessary

Both ARA and SAVE emphasized the need for consumer awareness. Posters publicizing the new program and emphasizing the use of china will be distributed in dining halls this week, and SAVE will encourage recycling at a Lobby 10 booth.

Assaad said that consumers must both insist on china and return it to the dining halls if the program is to succeed. She added that general environmental consciousness will help the program.

SAVE is working to educate MIT on the problems of disposable products, Assaad explained. According to the group's literature, there are no truly biodegradable plastic trash bags on the market today. Instead, what are widely publicized as biodegradable do little more than decompose into tiny toxic flakes which can infiltrate water systems, Assaad said.

The September/October issue of Garbage, another environmentalist magazine, said each American throws away four pounds of waste a day, as compared to 1.5 pounds for Europeans. A large percentage of this waste is in the form of disposables and paper products, the article added.

SAVE has also been pushing for Physical Plant to begin recycling efforts, but has not been successful to date.

SAVE commended ARA on their prompt action, and encouraged consumers to follow their lead. Assaad expressed hope that Physical Plant would do so in the near future.