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Eastern’s ‘green’ mission spreads to the dining hall

By MICHELLE FIRESTONE

Chronicle Staff Writer

WILLIMANTIC — Eastern Connecticut State University students are getting an education beyond the classroom.

Through the university’s environmentally-friendly initiatives, such as a food recovery program in Hurley Dining Hall, they are learning how to be good environmental stewards.

Rather than throw out what it can’t use, the university instead gives food to the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

“We sent, to date, about 1,100 pounds of food over there,” said Jeffrey Kwolek, director of Chartwells, the university’s food service provider.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, about 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities.

The university was recently named a “green college” by the Princeton Review for the eighth year in a row.

That announcement was made Sept. 20, when the Princeton Review released its 2017 “Guide to 375 Green Colleges.”

ECSU received its ranking for various initiatives, such as the food recovery program, composting program and the trayless initiative, which removed all cafeteria-style trays.

The university also has at least four Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings, a certification given to buildings with environmentally-friendly features, and a strong environmental earth science program as well as a new minor in environmental health science.

“Eastern has practiced environmental stewardship for decades, constructing green buildings, working with our utility companies to save energy, promoting sound recycling habits among our students and partnering with the state of Connecticut and local municipalities to advance sustainable practices across the region,” Eastern President Elsa Nunez said in a statement. “I applaud and thank Chartwells, our food services partner, for actively seeking ways to save food, reduce waste and support our local community in the process. It is another way we can teach our students to support a ‘green’ future.”

Kwolek said the green college ranking shows Eastern is “taking all the right steps and we’re being cognizant of what we do.”

“We think of new ways to be better every semester,” he said.

Initiatives already put into place at Hurley Hall have been successful.

Kwolek said compact waste is picked up by Willimantic Waste Paper Co. and sent to Quantum Bipower in Southington, where it is used to produce energy.

“Before that, it was all just going to the incinerator in Hartford,” he said.

Kwolek said items that can’t be composted or recycled go to the incinerator.

He said the amount of waste that goes to the incinerator was reduced by about 60 percent.

Kwolek said the trayless initiative was started about two years ago and has allowed the dining hall to cut down on the amount of water and chemicals used in the dishwasher.

The dining hall is also using reusable to-go containers.

Recently, the dining hall underwent a makeover that includes new LED lights, new furniture, a different seating arrangement and a different food station set-up.

“It’s a lot more comfortable now,” Kwolek said.

Students dining at Hurley recently spoke about the university’s “green college” label.

ECSU freshmen Jenna Melchione, an education major from Brookfield, spoke positively about the food recovery program.

“It’s a nice gesture,” she said.

ECSU freshmen Victoria Bryer, an environmental science and criminology major from Dayville, said it is “super important that we are creating a green environment at our school.”

Bryer, who wants to work for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as a conservation officer, said the trayless initiative entails students taking what they want and not wasting as much food.

“I think it’s super exciting,” she said, referring to the green college label.

Bryer said there is good variety among environmental science classes at Eastern.

She said while Eastern has become a leader in sustainable initiatives, there is “more work to be done”

“There’s always something to improve on, but we’re definitely taking the right steps,” Bryer said.

 

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