Home Campus OPINION: Students shouldn’t suddenly be charged for taking food to go

OPINION: Students shouldn’t suddenly be charged for taking food to go

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Students shouldn't have to pay for the new to-go boxes, argues Kat Tenbarge. Photo by Ben Peters.

Culinary Services implemented a new policy this semester that requires any student taking food to go to pay either $5 for a reusable container or 50 cents for a cardboard box. That’s not fair.

Dining hall takeout: It’s infuriating on a good day, and that’s not even taking into account how the food tastes once microwaved. But new freshman and returning sophomores who are obligated to stay on university meal plans were met with an even more insulting addition to the dining hall experience last Thursday.

Enter the official Ohio U reusable to-go box, a fluorescent green, microwave-safe container with a price tag of $5. Compared to its Amazon pricing of $26.68 for two, it’s a steal. Except meal plan price tags already range from a little under $2,000 to above $3,000, and the good, old-fashioned cardboard takeout containers now cost 50 cents a pop. So why are students being forced to pay a premium when they just want to escape Nelson with a box of eggs, anyway?

The plan had been discussed at Student Senate meetings since last fall, with members and Culinary Services representatives hashing out the details with a pilot program. The idea originated from an EcoChallenge pitch and found its way into campus eateries this past week. The program requires any to-go diners to pay for one of the two options, and the reusable containers are cleaned and traded in for a fresh box upon returning to a dining hall.

When The Black Sheep’s Ohio U branch tweeted its condemnation of the out-of-pocket costs, senior Student Senate Treasurer Lydia Ramlo, who was last year’s Environmental Affairs Commissioner, replied that “I know this is frustrating! But — this small change will help our sustainability goals as a university! It’s about making that small change to make a huge impact.”

It’s not that I’m criticizing the move to reusable plastic over the flimsy, leaky cardboard containers that stuffed campus dumpsters and oozed over the sides of university-provided dorm room trash buckets.

I wholeheartedly support resource conservation. What I can’t get behind is a publicly funded university charging its students more money, on top of their dining plans and housing costs, not to mention their tuition. Five dollars isn’t a big deal to most, but add that on top of textbook costs, school supplies, laundry money, and parking fees, and we have yet another monetary expectation to level on cash-strapped students.   

The Senate never even officially voted on the program. Members who attended the Culinary Service Development Committee presented the plan to that body and received feedback, but the official democratic channel for the kind of measure that impacts nearly half the student body was bypassed. Students should get a voice and a vote, regardless of whether the cost increase in question is $5 or $5,000.

The university also enforces a comparable penny tax on plastic bags in the campus markets. A student could avoid having to buy university branded reusable shopping bags by bringing in their own, or by carrying their things, or using their backpack, or even bringing in a Hasbro wagon.

But bringing in outside containers isn’t an option in the dining halls, and for good reason – we’ve all seen what dorm bathrooms look like halfway through the semester. We don’t want crusty Tupperware anywhere near the Shively fries.

There were about 4,000 students in last year’s freshman class. At $5 a container, if every freshman and sophomore residing on campus this year decides to purchase one, Ohio University Culinary Services is slated to make over $40,000.

Ramlo tells The New Political over Facebook Messenger that early conversations about the program included that the fee would go toward buying the to-go boxes and maintaining the program. We reached out to Culinary Services for confirmation but did not receive an immediate response.

The idea that students should have to pay for the reusable containers when there was never an expectation we would buy our compostable to-go boxes before is ludicrous. Sure, there’s an initial cost of buying the reusable boxes, and the increased water bill from the daily cleanings, but the school should ultimately be saving money if enough students switch to plastic containers. With each cardboard box now costing 50 cents, the swap is practically guaranteed.

As previously mentioned, each meal with a university plan already costs between $6 and $11, depending on your plan. Why can’t the cost of the reusable to-go boxes fall back on the university that already charges students steep costs for every day, mediocre dining experience?

There’s a way that the university could fix this. Assuming that the school is employing the cost to make sure people return their reusable containers and don’t stockpile them under their beds instead, the $5 should be a deposit that gets returned when the student checks their box in for the last time at the end of each semester.

The 50 cent price for a compostable box would then be fine, since it would encourage students to participate in a sustainable alternative for no net cost to their own bank account. But instituting a surprise cost over the summer is simply unjust.

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