Have you ever taken a mug out of commons? If not, chances are ou have seen someone who has. Since the beginning of the school year, over 900 mugs have walked out of commons with students, and despite pleas from dining services the majority of them have not been brought back.
The enormous number of missing mugs is perplexing. Christine Schwartz, the Assistant Vice President Dining, Conferences and Campus Events has a hypothesis: “We think what is going on is that it has become a social phenomenon for people to take mugs, and it has become somewhat, I don’t want to say game, but a little bit of a sport.”
Cheryl Lacey, the Director of Dining, and Schwartz can see how at face value the situation could be humorous. Look further, though, and the mug thievery ends up being a joke that turns sour.
“When you are trying to produce meals for individuals and making sure you have service wear, and people are knowingly taking mugs, it impacts our ability to do our job,” Schwartz explained.
Commons cannot continue to replace mugs at the astronomical rate they are being taken out. The lack of mugs requires the workers in the dish room to maintain an unsustainable mug turnover rate.
If this continues, students’ Commons experiences are going to be impacted. The mugs are five dollars each and are not kept in stock. The more money that is spent on mugs means less money available for local and organic food.
“It feels like they are being treated like disposable mugs,” says Lacey. The fact is, before Bates moved to personal reusable containers (PRC’s), Commons was using paper mugs. A shocking 750,000 disposable paper cups were used each year. Placed end to end, that is enough cups to span the 36 miles from Lewiston to Portland.
The cups also have a plastic lining rendering them unrecyclable. Additionally, when students missorted the paper cups, the recycling was contaminated which created more waste.
Parents’ Weekend was a sad reminder of the era of disposable cups. The paper mugs had to be brought out because there were not enough mugs to service the additional people on campus.
“Quite frankly it is kind of embarrassing, because we made a commitment,” Schwartz commented. “The parents know we made a commitment, the families know, the students know, and we had to put paper out because we as a community can’t return mugs.”
Dining Services emphasizes that the move towards PRC’s was the brainchild of a green grant by a set of students. Commons helped the process move along, but it was really a community decision based on voiced values Bates students.
Schwartz sees a disconnect between the values and actions of Bates students.
“I struggle because we as a community talk about sustainability and talk about being a thoughtful and engaged community,” Schwartz said. “But yet, [students] don’t think about the fact that they are taking a piece of equipment that we need to do our job, and [students] need to enjoy the experience out of the operation.”
“You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” Lacey added.
Commons has experimented with various iterations of the mug program, including leaving out collection bins for mugs.
“We’ve been there, done that, tried that system, Lacey commented. “It just doesn’t work.” That program was not maintainable considering at one point there were 9000 reusable cups out in circulation.
Other service wear is taken, but not to the same level of magnitude seen with the mugs. One initiative to return service wear is an incentive program with the custodial staff. For every bag of service wear they find and return to Commons, they receive one free meal ticket.
However, Dining Services underscores that this does not negate the fact that they should not be taken out in the first place.
The message to students is to be accountable. Bring back your mugs, and don’t take them in the first place! “It takes everybody to take responsibility. You can’t just do the lazy thing because you didn’t bring in your own mug,” Lacey finished.