CORVALLIS - To help reduce its waste flow, Oregon State University has entered into an agreement to supply its campus dining centers with 100 percent biodegradable food service packaging.
The packaging is made from a new material that consists primarily of limestone and renewable starch. Rich Turnbull, director of dining services for OSU, said the environmentally friendly containers will be used when food is ordered "to-go," which represents approximately one-third of all orders. Re-usable china and silverware will continue to be used for in-house dining.
Turnbull said approximately 50,000 disposable plates and 40,000 bowls are used at campus dining centers annually.
"More and more students are ordering food to go," Turnbull said. "The shift to completely biodegradable packaging will have a positive impact on the environment."
OSU is purchasing the new packaging from EarthShell Corporation, an environmental packaging technology company. Turnbull said he has been working with the company for the past three years, monitoring the progress of the product as EarthShell refined its plates and bowls for the college market. Two months ago, the company shipped the university a sample of plates and bowls and Turnbull said they were well-received in the dining centers.
"The product looks and feels like Styrofoam," Turnbull said. "But we put the plate in a blender with some water for about ten seconds and nothing came out but water and limestone. That illustrated to us that this product won't sit in a landfill for years."
According to EarthShell officials, annual sales of food service disposable packaging in the U.S. is estimated at $9 billion, with approximately $500 million generated from the education market alone. The company is actively targeting the education market and recently entered into a commercial agreement to provide plates and bowls to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
"Our students are asking for materials that are friendly to the environment," Turnbull said. "As a university, we are environmentally conscious and willing to take advantage of opportunities to help preserve our environment wherever possible."
Turnbull said the first shipment of nine-inch plates and 12-ounce bowls is expected any time. They will be used at MarketPlace West, McNary, and Arnold dining halls. The containers will hold everything from pizza to sandwiches.
In the future, Turnbull hopes to find cups that are 100 percent biodegradable.