Cafe Mac to purchase eco-friendly cups, napkins

By Peter Wright

Some of the cups at the Grille are in line for a new look and texture in the near future, all in the name of sustainability.Many of the Styrofoam cups and bleached white paper napkins currently in use will be replaced with environmentally friendly, biodegradable counterparts in an ongoing effort to make Café Mac more green.

“Our goal is definitely to make the Grille 100 percent compostable and phase in composting at Macalester,” Justin Lee ’08, the Environmental Liaison for Facilities Management, said.

Lee, who provided the research that led to the change, said that the biodegradable products will not only affect the Grille, but the entire campus. He said that most of the departments around Macalester buy their coffee cups and napkins from Café Mac.

The new products will also be used at campus events catered by Bon Appétit, Café Mac General Manager Lori Hartzell said.

This particular biodegradable program is unique to Macalester, but she said that it works well with Bon Appétit’s ultimate goals.

“[Bon Appétit’s] philosophy is about sustainability . This is a partnership with Macalester,” Hartzell said.

The change to biodegradable products does not mean an immediate change in how the cups and napkins are disposed, Hartzell said. Because Macalester does not have a composting program right now, the items are still thrown away or recycled if possible.

Lee said he hopes that as the Grille changes to biodegradable products, composting will be phased-in at Macalester sometime thereafter to make the process come full-circle.

That may be easier said than done. Hartzell said that successfully operating a biodegradable program or event can be challenging. Citing the “Zero-Waste Picnic” sponsored by Café Mac earlier this year as an example, she said that the minute a non-biodegradable item, like a water bottle, is tossed into a bag for biodegradable products, the bag is then “contaminated” and can’t be used.
Café Mac is trying to address these kinds of issues before any major program gets started.

The new cups are made by Clovernook, a Cincinnati based non-profit organization for the visually impaired. Lee said that 75 percent of the people working in Clovernook’s factories are visually impaired, and the extra money collected from the cup sales is used to provide community outreach programs. He said that aspect of the new cups makes the change at Macalester fit even more with the college’s philosophy.

“Even though we’re still throwing away, we’re supporting social values,” Lee said.

According to its website, Clovernook was established in 1903 as a residence for blind women, and has expanded since then to be a larger group with the goal of helping visually impaired people live independently. Also, the Chair of Clovernook’s Board of Trustees is a Macalester graduate from the class of 1974.

Hartzell said the cups will cost Café Mac more than the current containers, but the prices of drinks at The Grille will not change. The sizes of the cups, however, will shrink some. She said that instead of the current 12, 16, and 20 ounce cups, the new cups will be 10, 12, and 16 ounces.

Hartzell added that not all of the containers at the Grille are changing. The smoothie cups will remain the same because they are provided by the smoothie company.

The take-out containers will remain plastic because they have yet to find a container that is resistant to hot and cold substances, biodegradable, and within their budget.

Hartzell said that finding a good container is difficult. For instance, the cups used at the “Zero-Waste Picnic” in September could only hold cold drinks. Also, because the new cups are paper, Hartzell said that a serious concern was people burning themselves, but after testing the cups in several situations with no burns or complaints, she said she isn’t worried.

Hartzell said the new napkins arrived last Wednesday, and the cups could arrive as early as Fall Break. The cups are available to Macalester departments at 10 cents per unit.