Missing Commons Dishes Harm Environment, Reduce Student Funding

On Tuesday, December 10, the Quest sat down with Bon Appétit Manager Matt Talavera and Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life Amy Shuckman to discuss the issue surrounding missing Commons dishes and to shed light on the funding process for dish replacement. Over the past few years, Bon Appétit has seen a substantial increase in missing dishes. Because of this, they have teamed up with Greenboard in order to spread awareness on the environmental impact of replacing missing dishes and to generally spread awareness among the student body of the importance of waste reduction. 

Talavera has been at Reed as Bon Appetit’s General Manager for four years, and this is the second time he has decided to team up with Greenboard and the sustainability committee to help increase student awareness on the impact of replacing missing dishes. Talavera described the issue as being a sort of cycle, where every other year sees a substantial increase in missing dishes, and he noted that this year has taken a serious turn for the worse. The issue was first noted when Talavera found himself putting out paper plates because they had completely run out of plastic plates. This motivated him to reach out to both Greenboard and the Sustainability Coalition to discuss the best ways to move forward with ending the issue. Honor Council has also been involved in past years with facilitating discussions and educating the student body, who often don’t realize the negative impact that failing to return dishware has on other students.

When discussing this issue, the topic of funding came up, particularly surrounding the term “student funds” and what this really means. At the mention of this topic, Shuckman was eager to explain and dispel any disheartening beliefs surrounding the funding process. She started right off the bat by emphasizing that when they say “student funds” they are not referring to the pool of money raised by the student body and allocated for student activities. Shuckman stated that “in Reed’s contract with Bon Appetit, Bon Appetit agrees to pay $6,500 a year for dish replacement,” and this is based on the expectation that dishes will go missing and break by cause of natural wear. She continued by saying that, “Reed then agrees to pay whatever else is needed to keep dishes out.” It was also agreed that if Reed didn’t end up spending the amount of money that they had in previous years, the money would go back to student programming. Shuckman then stated that “I just think about it as money that Reed has to spend that can be allocated in a different manner and that could be put back into the school.”

With regards to what is happening to the missing dishes, and the reason behind the bi-yearly pattern, Talavera stated ultimately that they don’t know what’s causing it or where they’re going. Based on rumors, it is believed that students are taking the dishes and keeping them for personal use or just aren’t bringing them back solely because they forget. Shuckman stated that “the worst thing is when students forget about dishes and they sit and mold and the student thinks ‘Oh, I can just throw it out’… Bon Appétit has the resources to get rid of the mold and if they can’t, then they can simply recycle it in the proper way.” Recently, the facilities crew reported to Bon Appetit that they found two full bags of dishes in the dumpster. Talvera noted that “this is the part where we need students to really be conscious and be a good partner for the environment and with the school, which can be super challenging.” Towards the end of the interview, Shuckman reflected that “you don’t think about it, but at many other colleges, they don’t let you take dishes out… they check your bags and just do stuff that isn’t really a part of how we’ve done things here. And with this, there’s a lot of responsibility.” Talvera stated that, in addition to advocating for waste reduction, Bon Appétit is also trying to better integrate sustainability into their catering by introducing the rollout of wood silverware in place of the formerly used plastic. 

In summary, if you decide to take dishes out of Commons, remember to be mindful and bring them back — both because it helps decrease the size of Reed’s ecological footprint and because it increases the amount of money that can be put back into the school for student benefit.

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