Cornell Dining saves over 700lbs of plastic in food-plastic reduction pilot

Cornell Dining March 8, 2019

A six month pilot begun in August 2018 has successfully reduced single-use plastic waste in three on-campus retail locations.

Amit Bhatia Libe CaféMattin’s, and Green Dragon have successfully eliminated 66,793 plastic bags to date — the equivalent of about 700 pounds of plastic. The pilot targeted how grab-and-go baked goods are packaged.

Plastic sleeves, saran-wrap, and other simple wrappers are "single-use plastics." Though Cornell researchers are working on alternatives, these are largely not available for mass market to date.  A large amount of energy, materials, carbon, and water go into producing an item used once, briefly, before finding their way to a landfill. Single use plastic may keep food clean, but it can't be recycled. 

After looking at ways to reduce retail waste, Cornell Dining staff decided it was time for a more sustainable approach to serving baked goods.

Senior Operations Manager Meng-Wei Hsu championed the project. Instead of packaging cookies, muffins, bagels, and other goods in sealed single-use plastic bags, staff now arrange baked goods in free-standing cases. Customers use a pair of tongs to remove items for purchase, and have the option of packaging goods in biodegradable to-go bags.

The new bags are easier to eat from, and can hold two or more baked goods.

Meng-Wei has worked at Cornell Dining for four years, and is committed to sustainability improvement.

“If it’s good for the environment, I’ll do it,” said Meng-Wei. He said his five-year goal is to implement this strategy across all Cornell Dining retail stores. 

The official pilot study numbers from August 1 to March 1, 2019:

  • Amit Bhatia Libe Café = 40,171 plastic bags eliminated

  • Mattin’s = 18,047 plastic bags eliminated

  • Green Dragon = 8,575 plastic bags eliminated

As a result of the pilot, Bear Necessities has also made this switch as of Spring 2019.

Lily Bermel '21, a Student Sustainability Coordinator for Cornell Dining, contributed to this story.