Yale students seek on-campus Styrofoam ban

The dining halls at Yale University do not use Styrofoam containers, but local food trucks do, and they are now being targeted by student leaders in the interest of promoting sustainability.

Three student government organizations—the Yale College Council, the Graduate Student Assembly, and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPPS)—have now passed resolutions to form a committee that will be tasked with examining the feasibility of banning Styrofoam containers on campus, The Yale Daily News reported Tuesday.

The resolution was first passed by the GPPS in May, with the other two bodies following suit last week. Whereas the GPPS resolution only envisions a reduction in Styrofoam use, though, the GSA resolution sets a goal of banning the substance altogether.

“Sustainability is a mission that the entire generation of students feels very passionate about, as shown in our unanimous support of this joint initiative with the graduate and professional schools,” YCC member Joseph Cornett (’17) told The Daily News. “I’m excited to be working with them, and the more often that the different schools cooperate, the greater an impact we can have on Yale University.”

The GSA resolution identifies the motivation behind the effort, crediting a recent “waste audit” of dumpsters at two on-campus locations conducted by the Yale Office of Sustainability. The dumpsters, located on Science Hill and on the Medical School campus, were chosen for their proximity to areas where privately-owned food trucks do business on or near the campus.

“All students want a more sustainable campus,” proclaimed the GSA resolution’s sponsor, Bryan Yoon ‘18, who chairs the GSA’s Facilities and Healthcare Committee. “We hope it will help start a new dialogue across the divisional boundaries that consolidate the voices of all students regarding our shared concerns.”

One difficulty the initiative will likely face is that Yale only has the power to enforce the ban on the food trucks on Science Hill, because vendors in that area rent parking spaces from the university while those near the Medical School campus park on a public street.

The GSA resolution also acknowledges that many food vendors might be reluctant to switch to higher-cost materials, especially if their competitors do not make the transition as well, prompting Yoon to suggest that the committee could exert institutional pressure on the vendors while also working with them to find affordable alternatives.

“Although businesses on Yale campus properties … are not run by Yale, we should use our institutional leverage to change New Haven,” Yoon said, proposing as an example that compliant vendors could be rewarded with “Yale Green Badges” that might encourage environmentalists on campus to patronize them more frequently.

Somewhat ironically, given that one of the primary objections to Styrofoam is that it is non-biodegradable, the YCC and GSA resolutions were passed less than two weeks after the publication of two research papers reporting a promising new technique for decomposing the plastic-based material based on research pioneered at Yale in 2011.

According to Fast Company, a self-described progressive business media website, Stanford researcher Wei-Min Wu published a pair of research papers on September 21 claiming that wax-worms and mealworms are adept at breaking down Styrofoam products, converting them into carbon dioxide and tiny shreds that Wu suggests might be useful in soil.

The concept Wu describes is similar to one identified in a 2011 study by researchers from Yale, who discovered a certain type of fungus in the Amazon rainforest that produces enzymes capable of breaking down plastics, which they proposed adapting for commercial use.

Spokespersons for Yale did not respond by press time to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

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