Baylor Dining abandons dishes for plastic foam via COVID-19 regulations

Dining halls supply single use products to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Baylor Dining Services has halted the use of washable dishes in favor of plastic foam to-go boxes to abide by new COVID-19 policies. Additionally, self-serve stations have been removed and seating capacity is now at 34% in Penland Crossroads.

The Waco-McLennan Public Health District has been in conversation with Baylor about updated health codes since the start of the pandemic. Sean McMahon, Aramark resident district manager, said they have been working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Jefferson Health guidelines as well.

“We have had to implement multiple new policies and procedures in our day-to-day routines,” McMahon said.

Employees have “daily temperature and attestation” checks, stations have new electrostatic sanitation sprayers and social distancing is enforced in all dining and work areas.

One of the biggest shifts is the sole use of plastic foam cups and to-go boxes in every dining hall. To avoid cross-contamination, a new box is required at each station instead of the normal ability to load up a single box. This means that every additional food item or refill requires a new box or cup.

“We will all be glad when we can go back to real plates and silverware and alleviate the waste being generated by the to-go containers,” McMahon said. But for now, “student safety is our top priority.”

Spring sophomore Chase Robinson said he eats at Memorial Dining Hall every day and has witnessed the changes made since the return to campus. On the average day, he said he uses eight to 10 plastic foam boxes to get the same amount of food that used to take three.

“Even if you do choose to dine in, you are still going to have a bunch of Styrofoam containers that you end up throwing away at the end of your meal,” Robinson said. “You aren’t doing anything more ethical.”

Robinson said he acknowledges that using single-serve containers “is a wise move” regarding “coronavirus prevention,” and that to avoid cross-contamination, it is “essential.” But the main issue, he said, is the switch from recycled paper boxes to plastic foam that was made over the summer.

“We are moving in the wrong direction,” Robinson said. “I know there is a better way. We’ve demonstrated our ability to use paper before — it’s nothing foreign. We were doing it last year.”

McMahon said Baylor Dining is aware of this, however the to-go boxes and other goods that are normally used are unavailable from the distributor due to high demand. Cisco, Baylor’s main supplier, has been heavily impacted and many orders have been delayed or substituted.

“We didn’t have much of a choice. It was and still is a supply chain issue,” said McMahon. “The Styrofoam is readily available in the quantities we need. Styrofoam allows us to preserve food quality, assure protection from contamination and provides convenience.”

Some have questioned why Baylor Dining is not allowing students to bring their own to-go containers. However, McMahon said this is against health code “due to cross contamination.” This is because there is no guarantee these containers would be properly sanitized and is therefore unsafe.

Baylor dining does not “limit the number of boxes students take” because that would go against the value of their meal plan, McMahon said. Students are able to use as many boxes as they choose since before COVID-19, they were not limited on how much they could take.

“We are making our decisions to ensure [student] safety,” McMahon said. “Being eco-friendly is good, but their safety has to come first.”

Robinson said he remembers when the student body vocalized its desire to remove plastic straws from dining halls and they were removed. He urges students to take “another step” in demanding paper replacements for the plastic containers in the dining halls.

“It is absolutely on the school,” Robinson said. “We should be able to acknowledge that although prevention of Coronavirus spread is incredibly important, and it’s the reason we are still at school right now, we shouldn’t toss everything to the wayside that we’ve tried to uphold. We should be able to ditch plastic. Baylor needs to do better.”

Long term, Baylor Dining Services is hoping to return to using paper goods and real dishes, but that approval is going to have to come from the state health department level before it can be implemented into the university setting.

“We hope to see things go back to normal by next fall,” McMahon said. “In the meantime, we are consulting with our partners to determine how we can begin to slowly pull away from all of the to-go. I suspect we will see less and less as we move through the spring semester.”

When this will happen is unclear, but Baylor Dining Services will continue to abide by local health regulations and standards until then.

“Baylor has done a tremendous job in enacting plans to keep students on campus and engaged,” McMahon said. “I look forward to being able to bring back large Baylor events such as All-University Thanksgiving, Midnight Breakfast and Baylor Family Picnic. Our staff loves to serve the students and faculty on this campus and we hope to bring back the dining experiences that make Baylor special.”