Still hope for Eco Clamshells

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Students who frequent the Grille may be intimately familiar with the Appetizer Sampler Platter, Chicken Caesar Salad and Avocado Melt. They may not, however, be cognizant of the details of the Eco Clamshell program.

An Eco Clamshell is a “durable, hinged lid to-go container that is reusable and eliminates the need for disposable, non-recyclable take-out containers,” according to a promotional poster in the Grille. They are available upon request as alternatives to the standard styrofoam or plastic, disposable take-out containers.

The program operates under the condition that students bring back the Eco Clamshells after use. They can continue to use the containers each time they get food from the Grille, but students must ask specifically for the Clamshells. Although the program began with an initial $3 fee, in which students paid up front and could continue to participate until graduation, Macalester has since bought all of the Clamshells, so using them is free for students.

The Eco Clamshells align with Bon Appetit’s commitment to sustainability, and the promotional poster provides information on how using the Clamshells can “reduce the amount of raw material being extracted from the earth, lessen the amount of plastics that sit in landfills and take hundreds of years to decompose, and eat sustainably with an Eco Clamshell.”

Still, despite their environmental benefits and affordability, very few students ask for Eco Clamshells, according to Café Manager Josh Olson.

“People just don’t know about it. It’s on the menu board, but it’s just very small and it’s just not very well publicized as to what it is and how the system works,” said Katie Rank ’15, who used Eco Clamshells when she ate at the Grille last year.

Olson said he puts his staff in charge of asking students if they want to use Eco Clamshells, but “when it gets busy, it’s kind of hard. We don’t really think about it,” he said.

If neither the Grille staff nor Mac students speak up about using them, the Eco Clamshells do not get used, and demand has not increased much over the semester.

“I think the main issue is that it’s the norm not to use an Eco Clamshell,” Rank said. “You have to ask yourself.”

Still, “we would love to be able to do just Eco Clamshells by next semester” instead of styrofoam and plastic, Olson said. “That would be our goal.”

In order for the program to work, though, students would need to consistently return the containers.

“It’s pretty much the honor system,” Olson said. “They’re expensive,” and Mac can’t afford to keep buying more.

Although Rank was committed to using her Eco Clamshell, “I remember leaving mine under my desk for a few weeks, and I just kind of forgot about it,” she said.

Still, regardless of a return system with a record of unreliability, the Grille has many Eco Clamshells stocked, and Olson remains optimistic. “As long as they got returned to us … it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.