Effort underway to ‘green The Commons’

Brian Stuhlmiller shows off a "green list" container (no Styrofoam) and a "red list" Styrofoam container. Photo: Douglas Levere

Published May 4, 2016

“This is an important issue because no other UB campus food vendor serves anything in Styrofoam.”
Brian Stuhlmiller, UB student
Professor of Lorem Ipsum

The hottest thing to hit The Commons lately isn’t the newest ethnic eatery. It’s the pressure UB faculty, staff and students are putting on restaurants there to stop serving food in Styrofoam containers.

Last week, volunteers took turns passing out flyers to patrons outside The Commons. The flyers identify Commons vendors that do not use Styrofoam containers (the “green list”) — which as of today includes Marcos Deli, Starbucks and Subway — and those that do use it (the “red list”): Bollywood Bistro, Dancing Chopsticks, Korean Express, Kung Fu Tea, La Rosa, Rachels and Young Chow.

The flyers include a tear-off portion that encourages customers to sign a statement and leave it with red list vendors. The statement reads: “As a concerned customer, I am signing this statement to express my opposition to your use of Styrofoam, and I pledge to support those vendors that provide customers with a safe and sustainable alternative to Styrofoam, and a means to recycle these alternatives.”

“Right now, many popular vendors only give one option to patrons as they receive their food, and that’s Styrofoam containers,” says Brian Stuhlmiller, a junior who’s among a handful of students leading the effort. A number of student groups have joined as well, including the Student Environmental Network (SEN), Alpha Kappa Chi, Engineers for a Sustainable World and the Outdoor Adventure Club.

“This is an important issue because no other UB campus food vendor serves anything in Styrofoam. We’re hoping to leverage the support of the UB community to influence vendors to serve their food in alternative recyclable or reusable containers,” Stuhlmiller adds.

UB does not own or operate The Commons. First Amherst Development Group runs the 100,000-square-foot retail space. UB Campus Dining and Shops (CDS) eliminated the use of Styrofoam containers at all dining facilities and also provides recycling receptacles in food service areas.

The effort to green The Commons goes back several years:

  • October 2014: SEN launched a petition to ban Styrofoam use in The Commons.
  • March 2015: the Professional Staff Senate teamed up with SEN to approach Commons vendors with their concerns and present alternatives.
  • November 2015: PSS unanimously passed a resolution titled “Greening The Commons.”
  • April 2016: UB’s Faculty Senate unanimously passed the same resolution.

Now, students, faculty and staff have launched the Greening The Commons campaign to halt the use of expanded polystyrene foam — more commonly known by its trade name Styrofoam — in the Commons and encourage the UB community to patronize and promote vendors that serve their products in sustainable packaging.

Stuhlmiller says Commons vendors would see an uptick in business by switching to greener options. “This would decrease their overall footprint and promote even more business because they are initiating green strategies, which are more attractive to consumers,” he says.

Greening The Commons follows a number of sustainability pride points UB can claim in recent years, including being among the first to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to become climate neutral by 2030, and Campus Dining and Shops’ zero-waste focus, says PSS chair Domenic Licata.

“The UB community takes pride in the strides we have made to reduce our environmental footprint,” Licata says. “The Commons’ practice of using expanded polystyrene foam and of not collecting recyclables from their customers goes against all that UB has accomplished. Many students and visitors do not realize The Commons is privately managed, and their practice tarnishes our reputation. It’s time the red-listed vendors listen to their customers and switch to safer recyclable or compostable containers, for our health and the health of the environment.”