Central Stores is Dartmouth’s supply closet. Only it’s a closet the size of a warehouse, because Dartmouth is no shrimp.
According to their website, if you need “custodial, maintenance, repair, safety and office supplies, computer supplies and furniture items”, then Central Stores is the place to go. I often stop by to pick up supplies for Phi Tau, and this week I wasn’t just picking up paper towels. I was on a mission for green information.
If I were to ask you how many pong cups Dartmouth fraternities use over the course of a year, would it surprise you if I told you 1,000,000? Okay, so the number probably isn’t quite that high, but we all know that fraternities do use quite a number of pong cups when playing pong. Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation:
If a game of shrub has 7 cups per side, and you have 3 tables in a basement, and each has 8 games played on it, that’s 7 * 2 * 3 * 8 = 336 cups. For one night. For one fraternity.
As for figuring out how many pong cups are used at Dartmouth in a year, that problem is left as an exercise for the reader. With the fraternities alone it’s probably not a million, but if you factor in all of the plastic cups used in the dining halls, during reunions, during ice cream socials on the green, and so forth, the number is actually very, very huge.
So what do we do about it? Dartmouth has offered to recycle pong cups, but the problem with that plan is that very few frats go to the trouble of separating pong cups from beer cans and everything else that goes into trash cans. And forget about people rinsing their pong cups off! If the pong cups were compostable, that might make it possible to just pull out the beer cans and compost the cups, paper towels, spit, and *ahem* everything else *ahem* that ends up in frat basement trash cans. If Dartmouth would really buy in to their sustainability initiative and support the use of reusable kegs, you’d even be able to eliminate (or mostly eliminate) the need to separate-out beer cans. Elegance, indeed!
So who is currently using compostable cups, and where can we get them? Well I found an online supplier a while ago, but they might not be the best local choice. DHMC is currently using compostable cups, but they source them separately from Central Stores. I saw some compostable cups over at Tuck next to a water cooler the other day, complete with a specially-marked bin for them. Bingo! “Tuck probably gets those from Central Stores,” I thought. But when I was at Central Stores I had a chance to talk to Matt Gray, Central Stores Lead Man. “No,” he said, “we don’t currently carry anything like that. But we do have waxed paper coffee cups.” Hmmm. So where is Tuck getting the cups from and where are they sending them? I forsee some sleuthing in my future…
Matt also gave me some useful information about paper towels. If you’ve been around for a while you might have noticed that the multi-fold paper towels coming from Central Stores used to be brown, but for the last couple of years they’ve been white. The white ones are kind of pretty, but in order to get that color it’s almost certain that they have been heavily bleached. More bleaching chemicals == less environmentally friendly. I figured that the College had switched sources, but Matt assured me that they were all from the same supplier. He said that Central Stores will just stock what they can get, and that people probably liked the white paper towels better.
Matt did helpfully mention that the paper towels are made out of recycled paper, with the box indicating that the towels contain at least 40% post-consumer waste. The toilet paper is also made from recycled paper, with an amazing 80%+ of the fiber coming from post-consumer waste. That’s a big win for companies marketing recycled products as buying paper goods made out of recycled fiber closes the loop, providing a market for recycled materials and making recycling economical.
The 100% recycled paper products (click for larger versions):
With Central Stores stocking recycled paper towels and waxed paper coffee cups, both of which can be composted, things are looking pretty good. It would be nice to find a compostable plastic cup supplier for Central Stores, and it would be nice to find out if the supplier of the white paper towels can provide a more eco-friendly non-bleached alternative, but that work can happen gradually.
With the Dartmouth Composting Facility finally coming back online and starting to ramp-up in production, and with motivated people like Gary Hill and Lynn Coffran at the reins, we will have a very welcoming and energetic environment which will allow motivated groups and departments to choose environmentally-sustainable disposable products and to compost as much of their disposable product waste stream as possible.