All on-campus undergraduate students will receive reusable utensils

75% of fall pilot survey respondents ‘likely’ to continue using utensils

All undergraduate students enrolled in the dining plan will receive reusable utensils in the welcome bags provided when they move on to campus, Undergraduate Association (UA) Sustainability Chair Megan Xu ’22 wrote in an email to The Tech Feb. 7.

In the fall, the MIT Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC) “supplied 230 interested students living on campus with a set of reusable wheat straw plastic utensils to use,” according to the Recommendations Report for MIT Campus Dining for Spring 2021 by the SSC, Waste Watchers, and UA Committee on Sustainability. At the end of the semester, the select students were “surveyed about their experience,” and “140 students responded.”

According to the survey results, “of the individuals who did not use reusables, 35% did not want to clean them, 33% forgot to bring them, 5% preferred to use disposables, and the remaining 20% were automatically given disposables, had a stockpile of disposables from earlier in the semester, or lost their utensil set.” 

“50% of students said that the utensils did not work well with all food items, most notably meat and other foods that need to be cut,” the survey writes.  

Despite student dislikes, “75% of students were extremely or somewhat likely to continue using their utensils after the pilot,” and “63.4% of students indicated that they would still use reusable utensils when in-house dining resumes.”

The SSC thus recommended that MIT supply “stainless steel reusable utensils sets to all returning Spring 2021 students as part of their campus-arrival welcome bag.” This recommendation came after noting that procuring stainless steel is cheaper than disposables and wheat straw plastic utensils and that  “77% of students indicated metal as their preferred material for utensils.”

The SSC also recommended that MIT “offer disposable utensils and disposable bags only when requested by the student.” This “promotes the usage of reusables” by encouraging students to be more “self-aware of their own material footprint” and “decreases” potential wasted utensils. The report also wrote that MIT Dining should “procure more sustainable single-use items where the reusable alternative is less favorable.”

The SSC reached out to the “MIT Dining team to help them determine what was feasible for implementation within COVID era constraints,” SSC member and Waste Watchers administrator Natalie Northrup ’22 wrote in an email to The Tech Feb. 7. MIT Dining and the SSC worked together to “supply all students living on campus with a personal set of reusable utensils.”

The next step for the SSC team is “to publicize the efforts through avenues like Q-week [sic] and UA publicity channels.” Students can “use their utensils regularly and responsibly” and “bring their utensils and reusable tote when they go to pick up food so they don’t have to request disposable items.”