Students at Tower and Bae Pao Lu Chow Dining Halls may have noticed that more of their meals have been eaten on paper plates. Disposable dishware – plates, cups, bowls and utensils – have replaced normal dishes for up to two weeks at a time.
For many students, the change is unwelcome but not a surprise. “I just assume that at some point we’re gonna get paper plates… it’s not something out of the ordinary,” B’ella Ixmata Sehaaff ’25 explains.
Sehaaff likes the convenience of disposable dishware but still prefers regular dishware, noting that “it does make it more convenient in the sense that you can take a plate up with you to your room and then you can . . . toss it because the dining halls close so early . . . [but] paper plates . . . are meant to be disposed of. They’re not really sturdy.”
A mere two weeks into the school year, Tower is using disposable plates.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the use of single-use containers,” said Lori Davidson, director of operations at Wellesley Fresh. Single-use containers or plastics (SUPs) are thrown away after a single use. While the disposable plates, bowls and cups used by Wellesley Fresh are made of compostable paper, the cutlery is plastic. Plastic utensils pose a major problem for the environment. According to the nonprofit Habits for Waste, 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown away every year. Much of this waste finds its way into the ocean, which is estimated to have more plastic than fish by 2050.
In addition to its negative environmental impact, disposable dishware is expensive. Last year, disposable dishware in Tower alone cost $14,700, as stated by Davidson.
Wellesley Fresh states one reason they use disposable dishware is due to students not returning dishes back to dining halls. Many of these are thrown away and end up in landfills. Davidson says that “an estimated 12,000 dishes go missing from the culinary centers each year.”
Toward the end of the 2022-23 school year, dining halls experienced a shortage of dishware and posted signs imploring students to return dishes to kitchens.
Another factor explaining the switch to disposable dishware is periodic breakdowns of the dishwasher. Wellesley Fresh says “each culinary center has a functioning dish machine. Like any piece of equipment, ongoing use will eventually have an impact and require maintenance and repairs.” These repairs require a switch to disposable dishware. “We only switch to disposable dishware when absolutely necessary,” Davidson says.
Workers in the dining hall say the broken dishwasher is as great a concern as students not returning dishes. “It’s gonna go down in less than two weeks again,” said Kathy Hondrogiais, a cook who has worked at the college for 14 years. “This happens a lot on this machine. Eventually, they need to get a new one.”
Dining hall employees say they prefer regular dishware because of the high costs of disposable dishware. And it creates a heavier workload for them because they have to hand-wash pots and pans.