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Natural Awakenings Rhode Island

Plastic-Free College Dining Service

Jan 31, 2020 10:31AM ● By Wendy Fachon
The Donovan Dining Center at Rhode Island College (RIC) has eliminated single-use, petroleum-based plastic products from its dining service, while other initiatives have reduced plastic waste elsewhere across the campus. Paper straws and brown paper bags have replaced plastic ones. Paper plates and coffee cups are compostable. Cutlery and drinking cups are made from a corn-based biodegradable material. The cafe in the Student Union offers a credit to students and staff that bring their own coffee mug or thermos, because this eliminates the expense of a disposable coffee cup.

Entering first year students receive a reusable plastic water bottle that they can refill at bottle filling stations located around campus. This program helps introduce and promote a sustainable habit. Over the past three years, RIC has phased in new filling stations equipped with counters, in order to monitor water bottle use. The college’s Sustainability Coordinator, Jim Murphy commented, “So far, we have prevented almost 1 million plastic bottles from entering the waste stream. The program has been well-accepted by students, staff and faculty, and it has been cost effective for the college.” All of these strategies for reducing single-use plastic can be readily adapted by hospital cafeterias and other institutional food services.

Murphy chairs the annual meeting for the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA). This year’s Annual Summit will be held from 8 a.m. to noon, February 8, in the Donovan Dining Center. The event includes breakfast, breakout sessions led by a variety of respected leaders, a raffle to support professional development scholarships and a keynote address by Hannah Pickard, Network Manager at the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation. RIEEA welcomes anyone interested in supporting environmental education in Rhode Island—administrators, legislators, teachers, students, environmental educators and citizens. Register at

Wendy Fachon is a regular contributor to the magazine and host of the Story Walking Radio Hour on the Dream Visions 7 Radio Network. Learn more at