Overflowing trash cans, cardboard milk containers, Styrofoam bowls—a distressing sight for the environmentally-conscious, but for Aaron C. Fallon ’11 and Iris W. Tian ’11, this scene at Fly-By last fall marked an epiphany.
In search of a topic for their final project for Environmental Science and Public Policy 10: “Environmental Policy.” Fallon and Tian teamed up with classmate Phillip Y. Zhang ’12. Together, they sought to fix what Tian calls the most environmentally unfriendly component of Harvard University Dining Services: their grab-and-go lunch service.
Fallon, Tian, and Zhang sent their term paper to HUDS spokeswoman Crista Martin, but with no guarantee that the University would act on any of their recommendations. Spring and summer passed with little word from HUDS.
But two weeks into the fall term, Martin sent the group an e-mail informing them that some of their report’s proposals had been implemented and inviting them to have a look. The report’s authors expect that the adopted proposals—which replace many non-recyclable, non-compostable goods with versions better for the environment—will reduce Fly-By’s trash levels by 90 percent and cut 29,353 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
‘HORRIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT’
Created in 1998, Fly-By is an upperclassmen-only self-service lunch program that serves an average of 550 people per day in Loker Commons, according to Martin. HUDS Executive Director Ted A. Mayer says he designed Fly-By to help students who were having difficulty getting lunch because of their schedules or the location of their Houses.
“It was really neat to have a grab-and-go solution, a very basic bag meal of a sandwich, fruit, chips, and a drink,” Martin says. “It’s evolved a lot over time.”
Over the years, HUDS even expanded Fly-By to include hot entrees. But the burgeoning lunch line was serving up more than just food. In their report, Fallon, Tian, and Zhang estimate that of Harvard’s annual greenhouse gas emissions produced by solid waste, 1.4 percent—32,614.4 pounds of carbon dioxide—came from Fly-By last year.
“None of the materials with which Fly-By food is served are recyclable or compostable,” they write in their report. “Even if students take their Fly-By lunch to go as they should, their waste will head directly to landfills.”
They trace the problem to several non-recyclable, non-compostable components of Fly-By: the plastic wrap on sandwiches, the cups and lids that were used for drinks and soups, and the Styrofoam containers used for entrees.
Tian is perhaps the most outspoken of the report’s authors. The only Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator of the three, she avoids Fly-By because of environmental concerns and still makes time to return to Currier House for lunch in between classes.
“To some degree, any environmentally aware student knows that Fly-By is just horrible for the environment, ‘cause you go in there, you take all these plastic utensils, napkins, cups,” she says. “There were tiny little water bottles that were very small, so I would take three water bottles and then we’d be throwing them away.”
LET THE RESEARCH BEGIN
Mayer has worked with ESPP 10 for three years on different projects related to HUDS and sustainability. The first year, students attempted to develop a way to rate food based on environmental friendliness. The next year, they worked with vendors to improve food sustainability. Last year, their project was about how to effectively communicate HUDS’ sustainability efforts.
Fallon, Tian, and Zhang picked Fly-By for their project because of their exposure to HUDS in the course, the impact Fly-By has on student life, and Fallon and Tian’s observation of high trash levels. Zhang, who is also on the Crimson business board, was a freshman when he took the course and could not use the service at the time.