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Office of Sustainability replaces bottle giveaway with opt-in utensil program

reusable utensil kit.jpg

The pouch of bamboo utensils that the Office of Sustainability will distribute

Photo Credit: The Office of Sustainability 

As a part of its goal towards a zero-waste campus, the Office of Sustainability is piloting a reusable utensil kit opt-in for the Class of 2023.

The reusable utensil kit consists of a fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks, all made of bamboo. A total of 350 students have opted in, with 88 percent from Class of 2023 and 12 percent from other class years. They will be handed out at the “Zero-Waste” event on Oct. 25. 


Historically, the Office of Sustainability has given away free, reusable water bottles to every first-year student, but it recently realized that this was not the best way to promote reuse. Many students were receiving free, reusable water bottles from their residential college or academic department already. Others did not like the particular design of the water bottle or already owned reusable bottles.

At the Greening Move Out, where students can donate used or unwanted items at the end of the year, the Office of Sustainability was finding more and more reusable bottles from giveaways left on campus.

“It just didn’t seem appropriate anymore,” Lisa Nicolaison, Engagement and Communications Coordinator of the Office of Sustainability, said. “We were causing waste.”

A reusable utensil kit seemed like a better option, especially given the numerous food events on campus that use disposable plastic utensils, which are not recyclable. Nicolaison hopes this kit will encourage habits of reuse and reduce waste both on and off campus.

The Office of Sustainability has already started talking with Outdoor Action and Community Action about ways to get the word about utensil kits out earlier next year so that Class of 2024 students will be able to receive a kit as soon as they arrive on campus.

Ayeda Hamed ’23 found out about the opt-in program through the Office of Sustainability's Instagram post. She was planning on buying utensils because she wanted to cook on campus, but then found out that the Office of Sustainability was giving them away for free.


“I think the opt-in was an extremely smart thing to do, so that there is no waste,” Hamed said. “[The Office of Sustainability] takes care of the little things. Generally, I haven’t seen this back home [in Pakistan] as much, and so I appreciate the effort they are making.”

Hamed said that she received a free, reusable metal straw at the academic expo, but hasn’t used it since. “I think opting in would make me actually think about if I would use it and if I really want it,” she said.

However, she is not sure how often she will remember to bring her utensil kit to the numerous food events on campus. She is usually outside of her room when she hears about a free food event and may not always have her utensils on hand for future events.

“When a free food event is advertised, they could remind us to bring our own utensils if we have them so whenever I see that, I’ll also bring my utensils,” Hamed said.

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According to Nicolaison, this pilot program was partially inspired by an op-ed in The Daily Princetonian titled “Stop giving out free t-shirts,” in which columnist Claire Wayner proposed an opt-in program for residential college gear after noticing “piles of Clash of the Colleges t-shirts” at the EcoReps clothing swap last year.

“Students should be sent a registration form which they can fill out only if they want an item,” Wayner wrote. “This will help to limit the number of duplicates that remain by the end of the year.”

This is the first year the Office of Sustainability is trying an opt-in program, but Nicolaison is optimistic about its future.

“We are hopeful that sort of changing the way we refer to a giveaway on campus will really help,” Nicolaison said. “There’s definitely a culture change that we are hoping to inspire.”