10 April 2018

No biodegradable disposables in university restaurants

Utrecht University started this academic year with a pilot in one of the company restaurants in which sugar cane cups, cutlery of corn and palm leaf plates replaced the porcelain dishes. Research by students from the Faculty of Geosciences shows that the so-called biodegradable disposables are not more sustainable than the porcelain dishes in this situation.

That is why the university stops the pilot on 11 April and is not replacing the porcelain dishes in its restaurants with biodegradable disposables. “For the students this is valuable research experience and it is a great for them to experience that their recommendations are being implemented,” says Living Lab Coordinator, Libby van den Besselaar.

The results

The following issues arose during the pilot:

  • The screening life-cycle assessment (LCA) showed that the use of a ceramic plate equals 319 plates made from bagasse (the residual product of sugar cane) after 319 times. Assuming that a ceramic plate is used more than 319 times, the ceramic plate seems to be the more environmentally friendly solution in this situation. Follow-up research is necessary to make definitive conclusions about this, but this was sufficient information for the Facilities Service Centre to stop the pilot.
  • The practice is more complicated that the theory. There was a shredder in the pilot restaurant in the Androclus building (SuperLizzy). Unfortunately, most of the disposables did not end up in here, because employees and students brought their dishes to their workplace or outside. Then, they threw the disposables into the residual waste bin and not into SuperLizzy.
  • Employees and students are positive about the use of the disposables. They even seem willing to give up a bit of comfort if a more sustainable alternative is offered.
  • All the service that has ended up in the composting machine has been fully processed into compost. Within 48 hours even the sturdy cutlery could be used as compost for the vegetable garden.
  • Until further notice is  the university not going to use biodegradable disposables at the places where porcelain service is now used. However, it may happen that the university will use biodegradable disposables at events where it now uses standard disposables, because this is the more sustainable choice.

The pilot for a circular chain

The restaurant in the Androclus building had a shredder (Super Lizzy) in which the biodegradable disposables were collected together with the organic waste since the end of August. This shredder shredded, verged and compressed the waste. The waste processor then ensured that the correct proportions of materials were processed in the composting machine (50% disposables and 50% organic waste). After 48 hours of composting, bacteria have converted the remaining material into compost. The desire was to set up a valuable circular chain in which the raw materials retain their value and contribute to the objective of having a CO2-neutral operational management by 2030.

Living Lab from Green Office

The pilot took place within the framework of the Living Lab from the Green Office, where students research sustainability at the request of clients within the university.

Previously published: Are biodegradable disposables the future?