Dining hopes free mugs will reduce waste

Last year, Sharif Vakili ’13 began each day with the same routine: filling a paper cup with hot tea to drink on his morning walk up Science Hill. But when he arrived back on campus this fall, a Silliman College dining hall worker told him a disposable cup would cost him 25 cents. Vakili left caffeine-free.

But beginning today, all students on a meal plan will receive a free, reusable stainless steel mug in their residential college dining halls. The distribution of the mugs coincides with Yale Dining’s new policy to charge 25 cents per disposable paper cup, which were formerly free of charge. The money raised through charging for paper cups will help offset the cost of providing mugs to students, said Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining, but the primary objective is to help meet Yale Dining’s sustainability goals. The goal of the 25 cent charge, he said, is to “make people responsible for wasteful behaviors.”

Yale Dining is turning to sustainable stainless steel mugs in place of paper cups.
Yale Dining is turning to sustainable stainless steel mugs in place of paper cups.

The distribution represents the culmination of an effort that began in May 2008, when Yale Dining began investigating the possibility of producing and distributing mugs to students, Taherian said.

“We have pictures of the trash that [students] threw away,” Taherian said. “It was filled with mugs.”

Taherian and a team at Yale Dining began designing a mug that students would not want to throw away. Though they found many plastic mugs in the trash, they rarely spotted a stainless steel one. They also formed a committee of students to establish a set of characteristics for an ideal mug. The students recommended that the mug be spillproof and able to hold both hot and cold liquids.

The end result is a stainless steel mug with two tops to ensure that liquids do not spill. Also, because Yale Dining had seen many promotional mugs for nearby coffee vendors such as Willoughby’s in the trash collection, the mugs’ sides only say “Yale: Where Blue is Green.”

“We didn’t want to be like everyone else,” Taherian said. “They give you something but actually are advertising for themselves.”

Even after the mug design was completed, the process had several delays. When Yale Dining discovered that the mug would cost $15 per mug to produce in the United States, they began to investigate options to produce the mug abroad, Taherian said. Eventually, he added, they decided to produce the mugs in China, where the production costs totaled only $4.10.

“It took a long time … next time we will just go buy one,” he quipped.

Yale Dining will also offer the mugs to student groups and different academic departments — but for a price. Including the costs to transport the mugs to and from storage nearby in Connecticut, the mugs cost around $5, which is the same price that Yale Dining will charge to other organizations and departments that will distribute the mugs, Taherian said.

Because of the mugs’ spillproof seals, they cannot be machine-washed, said Regenia Phillips, director of residential dining; students will have to hand wash the mugs themselves.

Fourteen students interviewed said they were impressed with the overall design of the mug and could see themselves using it instead of paper cups. Still, Christopher Logan ’14 said getting students to wash their own cups may be difficult.

Andrea White ’13, a STEP coordinator in Davenport College, said she was impressed with the mugs’ design and with Yale Dining demonstrating its commitment to sustainability. STEP was not consulted on the mugs’ release, she said.

“It’s always an issue to get people to remember [to use] reusable cups,” White said. “But at least we’re presenting them with the option.”

The mugs will be located behind the swipe desk in each residential college dining hall.

Comments

  • comment

    We all have mugs already. Dining could have saved the 5 bucks and sweatshop labor, and left our salad bar alone instead! Those paper cups were used for meals-on-the-run as much as taking hot beverages out of the dining hall. The hours for eating are so short, it is nearly impossible to use the full plan we have to pay for. What a rip. And then this PR stunt. Lame.