MSU students arrived on campus this semester to see dining halls once again stocked with disposable cutlery. The presence of single-use plastics in dining halls has been a cause for concern for some students.
“It is a little disheartening to see all the disposable stuff,” computer engineering freshman Dominick Schwutke said. “They’re all going to go into the garbage and we don’t reuse any of that so it’s a little sad to me."
However, in the two weeks since fall move-in, the university has made progress in restoring reusable utensils in dining halls, culinary services spokesperson Cheryl Berry said. Berry estimated that one or two dining halls are still using disposables, a decrease from five locations at the beginning of the school year.
Berry said that understaffing, particularly a shortage of student employees, is the primary cause for the use of disposable utensils in the remaining dining halls. Until the culinary services staff returns to sufficient capacity, she said, there are not enough employees to wash and sort reusable silverware.
“Until we get students hired and our full-timers all trained, (the) back of the house is quite limited,” Berry said. “Because of that, the silverware comes last.”
This is not the first time MSU has resorted to single-use cutlery due to understaffing. At this time last year, understaffing resulted in the implementation of disposable utensils, cups, bowls and plates. Additionally, in 2021, university culinary services asked professors to volunteer in dining halls. According to Berry, staff shortages in the dining halls have been more common since the pandemic.
“It’s an ongoing struggle for our HR team to do the hiring process, not only to get students hired but then to keep them engaged and keep them working,” Berry said. “We continue to hire constantly, but I don’t think that we ever reached full capacity last year.”
Many students have criticized the return of single-use plastics in the dining halls. Business freshman Joseph Mullett said he was concerned with the environmental impact, adding that although he makes a conscious effort to avoid using plastics, having to throw everything out after eating feels “useless.”
Berry responded to environmental concerns by saying that MSU’s culinary services work alongside a sustainability officer that they consult before making large decisions.
“We try to mitigate bad environmental impact as much as we can, which is why we choose to do the plasticware rather than (plastic) plates and the bowls,” Berry said. “It (has) a lower impact and the plasticware can be compostable.”
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