For a group of five University of Colorado students, one class assignment turned into a full-scale mission.

The goal: to put some positive change into the hands of their fellow students, literally — by attempting to convince the University Memorial Center to stop using Styrofoam cups.

“The assignment for the class was to discover an issue and act on it in order to create positive change or education,” said Victoria D’Amico, a CU junior enrolled in the Sustainable Development and Human Behavior course through CU’s Architecture and Planning School.

When a classmate reported that Styrofoam cups were being used to serve coffee and other beverages in the UMC’s Alfred Packer Grill and Baby Doe’s, the group saw an opportunity to apply the principles of sustainability they’d been learning about in class toward the very university in which they had learned them.

“We met with the head of purchasing at the UMC and the head of campus dining services to go right to the source of who controls the purchasing,” D’Amico said.

Unfortunately, the campus officials they met with ended up offering a similar explanation to that given by UMC Director Carlos Garcia.

“We would love get rid of the Styrofoam cups as soon as tomorrow, if we could,” Garcia said. “Unfortunately, the cost of using replacement products is much more expensive.”

According to Garcia, when the UMC last looked into the cost of replacing their Styrofoam products, the cost of the switch to something greener was upwards of $40,000.

“We’re hoping we’ll see some replacement products come down in the near future, as some other products have come down, to make it more affordable,” Garcia said.

Over the course of their assignment, the students went so far as to complete a survey of 537 students — both from their own and unrelated classes — to discover if students might be interested in paying an additional 10-25 cents more per cup of coffee for eco-friendly containers.

According to their report, 84 percent of students surveyed said yes.

Justin Karr, a CU senior who described his involvement with this group assignment as one of the highlights of his college career, said the polystyrene used in the cups makes the extra cost a non-issue.

“If you take the cost and weigh it against the environmental and potential health risks, then you really can’t put a price on it,” said Karr.

Though the group will be presenting their findings to the class tomorrow, they said that their professor, Fidel Santos, is already very pleased with their progress.

“He’s going to take what we did in our action plan up to this point and give students in the next class the opportunity to pick up where we left off,” Karr said.

Meanwhile, UMC Director Garcia said there are several sustainability programs currently in place to provide some eco-friendliness to the UMC.

Among them are the zero-waste composting practices offered by UMC catering, the “green” cleaning products used by maintenance personnel, and a 20 cent discount given to anyone who brings a reusable container for coffee or beverage purchases.

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