The Paradox of the Reusable Container

My school, Christopher Newport University, recently implemented new reusable takeout containers. In the past, the containers were cardboard and “biodegradable” but were almost assuredly thrown in the trash since students shockingly weren’t encouraged to create an in-dorm compost. I was happily surprised by the new move. Instructions on how the new system worked were sent out and though they were slightly convoluted, once I got to school it was easier to see. You take a reusable container out and when you want to come back for a new one, you return the old one in exchange. The old containers are still in the halls and sadly most students hang on to what they know best--throwing away trash. I’m not trying to condescend because I by no means live a zero waste life. But, come on, they tried to make it easy for us and we’re still not trying to help the environment? 

Students will be students, I guess, and in the rush of classes and other commitments sometimes trying to figure out a renewable container is just not in the agenda (the world has to end sometime, might as well quicken the pace). Whatever the case, I walked into our dining hall, this time to eat “in house”, with a jolly skip in my step, thinking how I was saving the world one container at a time. I made my way over to Healthy Haven to get my vegan chickpea ratatouille (see article Why I Became A Vegetarian--spoiler alert, it was for the environment) feeling on top of the dying world when the employee handed over my meal piled on a paper plate. A paper plate. A PAPER plate. Now, I don’t know if there is a dish washing issue or if the new addition of reusable containers has backlogged that end of the dining hall, but what is the point of offering reusable containers if you use paper plates in the dining hall? It’s one step forward with several steps backward. Most students don’t even use the reusable containers and those that do opt for them, are using paper plates within the dining hall. Now I understand that I sound like a privileged a--hole right now. I don’t mean to insinuate that the employees are at all at fault nor that I would act entirely differently if I was in the place of them.  

This is a perfect analogy for the issue of climate change as a whole. It is not the players of the game at fault, it’s the game. Yes, grassroots campaigns have sparked change in some cases, but it’s slow and eventually picked up by larger corporations or institutions and then further permanent change follows. I can preach all I want about how you need to make changes in your daily routine and how that will save the world (which if we all did, it would), however, it’s negligible. The problem is our government, our corporations and our trash-throwing-away culture.

Nothing is going to change unless those in places of power change. Yes, it’s important to do your part and you will have some impact on the world. But, it’s nowhere near enough. CNU tried to show they’re “changing” by putting in place an awesome new initiative which I am very appreciative of. But, as always, it’s not enough. It’s no individual’s fault but a larger societal fault. Nothing is going to change with our environment unless the government intervenes against large corporations who are rapidly speeding the climate change process. We take one step forward and the government has taken a hundred back. There’s only so much a reusable container can do.