The Hoot goes green

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Veronica Johnson

The Hoot, Rice’s student-run late-night food service, enacted several major changes with the start of the 2015-2016 academic year, including steps to “green” their operations. Beginning in August 2015, The Hoot consolidated their North Colleges and South Colleges outlets into one central service point located in the Rice Memorial Center, which enabled expanded hours and menu options. They also eliminated the use of Styrofoam to-go trays and red Solo cups, both of which are made from the #6 plastic commonly known as polystyrene. Polystyrene is not recyclable in most municipalities. Further, polystyrene is not biodegradable, and it can take hundreds of years to deteriorate, thus making it a major component in urban and ocean litter.

The initial proposal for replacing the to-go trays and Solo cups came from a student project team in the Fall 2014 class ENST 302/SOCI 304 - “Environmental Issues: Rice into the Future” whose members included Jennifer Muturi (‘15), Kelly King (‘15), Stefanie Saathoff (‘15), Tim Chang (‘15), and Veronica Johnson (‘16). However, the team’s proposed environmentally-preferable replacements were not economically feasible for The Hoot at that time.

At the end of the Spring 2015 semester, Emi LaFountain (‘15) contacted Amanda MacDonald (‘16), The Hoot’s Product Development Manager, about applying for Rice Environmental Society (RES) funding to replace the Styrofoam trays at The Hoot. "I was super on board because I'd been wanting to switch to biodegradable trays, but they were more than twice the cost of styrofoam trays," said MacDonald. LaFountain submitted a grant proposal to subsidize part of the cost of switching from Styrofoam trays to biodegradable trays, and the grant was approved by RES. The new to-go trays are made of biodegradable sugarcane fibers (bagasse). The decision to eliminate red Solo cups was an easier economic choice for The Hoot, and they now use recyclable plastic cups that are also for sale in packs for student use at the low price of $4 for 50 cups.