EcoMug rules cause confusion

Katie Matteson

When turned away from Valley One cafeteria for trying to use her EcoMug after 11a.m., Freshman Chelsea Errante asked: “Why can’t I get my germs at lunch time?”

A student supervisor answered “due to health code reasons” and shrugged.

Errante and many other Western Michigan University students began the school year confused about WMU’s newest addition to the “green” movement: the EcoMug.

The EcoMug is a stainless steel mug, available in either blue or silver, with the logo “We Sustain” on the side. It holds 15 fluid ounces and is made to either carry hot or cold beverages. The goal of the EcoMug is to cut back the use of Styrofoam on campus.

Valley One cafeteria workers don’t allow the mug to be used past 11a.m., the Bernhard Center cafeteria allows students to use it all day. The lack of communication about EcoMug rules leaves workers and students all confused.

“It should be all or nothing,” said Valley One Freshman Nickolas Stamas.

The concept of the EcoMug is not new at all. WMU actually began the program back in the spring of 2001. When it first began, an earlier version of the mug was supported by 12 local businesses, but was not allowed in cafeterias or cafés on campus.

In 2005, Western’s Student Association (WSA) paid for the mugs, however, by 2006, they could no longer afford the cost. After some heavy advertising to local businesses and a grant for funding, the mug could be used at 15 locations, but still not on campus.

In 2008, a student researched the EcoMug for an assignment for his Appropriate Technologies and Sustainability class. The following winter, Professor Harold Glasser brought the idea to implement the mugs on campus to WSA. WSA passed a resolution to provide EcoMugs to incoming first year students in order to phase-out of Styrofoam and paper cups.

The policy for use of the EcoMug on campus states that the EcoMug can only be used in cafeterias because of health code. Also, use of the mug is allowed during carryout times in all cafeterias from 7a.m. to 11a.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight.

“The concept is [for the mug] to be used in lieu of Styrofoam which was only allowed during carryout,” said Dining Services Director Judy Gipper. “Our services haven’t changed.”

Gipper said if students were able to use their mugs all day, the costs would increase dramatically. Keeping cafeterias open and the quality of food high are more important expenditures than those for beverages, Gipper said.

Gipper also said restricting the use of other personal drink carriers is necessary because the EcoMug was designed to adhere to health code regulations. She said the opening on the mug is wide enough where, if pressed against the top of the soda dispenser, it will not touch the pop nozzle.

“[Western has] a good idea, but it seems rushed,” Errante said.
Gipper agreed, and she said the decision to implement the EcoMugs was delayed until right before Fall Welcome. She said she never had the chance to meet with new incoming students and cafeteria workers at orientation and explain the policy directly. Instead, rules traveled by word of mouth.

Even now, she said, publicity is lacking. Many students are still unaware of the discounts they can receive by using their mugs at local businesses and r on-campus cafés, Gipper said.

The problems caused by the lack of publicity are not the only frustration WMU students have experienced with the EcoMug. Freshman Elise Marchione said the EcoMug seems cheaply made.

“It only holds about five sips, then you’re done,” said Marchione. She said it’s not worth it to use her mug at local restaurants because she will get less than what she would with a paper cup. Other problems include leaking and faulty lids.

However, other students said they are satisfied with the EcoMugs. Ibrahim Mohammad, Bernhard Center student supervisor, said there aren’t problems with the mugs thus far. He said students have been asking where they can purchase them.

Marchione and Stamas both said they will not go back to Styrofoam just because of leaks or minor issues with the mugs.

“I don’t approve of Styrofoam. I just wish getting a drink wasn’t so confusing,” Marchione said.

Gipper said she is content with the progress made so far. Although statistics about reduction of Styrofoam and amount of EcoMugs sold is inconclusive, she said she believes students are beginning to get the hang of the policy.

“[Dining Services] wanted to support a student initiative and the concept of sustainability,” Gipper said.

She said that although use of the EcoMug this year has encountered some problems, she has high hopes for the future.

“It’s great that the program got off the ground,” she said. “It will be a great program once it fully integrates.”