In just the last two months of school, the Gourmet Dining Services (GDS) dishwasher at the Campus Center dining hall has broken down at least four times—once for nearly half a week—forcing the dining hall to offer single-use plates, cups and utensils for the thousands of students who eat there every day. Reactions to this situation have been mixed.
“It’s so convenient when it’s disposable. Then we actually get clean dishware,” said Caroline D’Souza, a junior Chemical Engineering student.
However, others have been more critical of the policy. Matthew Drexler, another junior Chemical Engineering student, said, “The GDS dishwasher definitely needs some updating. It has been breaking down more recently and forcing them to use disposable dishes and silverware, which creates a lot of trash in addition to the normal food waste.”
In two days, approximately 300 pounds of waste from single-use items was generated according to data from NJIT Green’s waste audit. When asked about GDS’s reliance on single-use items, Katherine Ji, the President of NJIT Green and a sophomore Biology major, said, “The threats that single-use materials and plastics pose are real and not at all exaggerated—they affect ecosystems on all levels. As an educational institution, it is incredibly disappointing that we are still resorting to the use of these materials on such a wide scale.”
One needs only to follow the revolving trays where diners deposit their used dinnerware to the dining hall’s back room to see the source of the problem: the large industrial dishwasher which cleans and sanitizes all the used cups, plates and utensils. The tableware is placed onto a nylon belt, which moves it through the various compartments of the dishwasher like a conveyor belt until it reaches a bar at the end. This bar stops the belt until the cleaned items have been removed.
“Overall it’s in good shape, only problem is the belt . . . it’s 99% of the problem,” said Mark Massa, NJIT’s Director of Facilities Service.
The belt currently in use has been in place for the last five years, and normal wear-and-tear from the thousands of students who eat at the dining hall every day has resulted in damage to the belt, which is usually the cause of the dishwasher’s breakdown. This causes the switch from ceramic plates and metal utensils to the disposable ones.
When this happens, it’s up to Massa and his team to come in, sometimes even on weekends, and fix it quickly to keep it from being a major disruption to the dining hall’s operations. “The majority of the time it fails you guys don’t even know about it,” he added.
However, these fixes are not a long-term solution to the underlying problem of a worn-down belt. To solve that, another one must be installed. “The issue is the piece is very customized, they don’t make this unit anymore,” explained Massa. Instead, NJIT has reached out to an outside contractor to create the unit themselves and is currently getting a quote for the replacement. Massa stated that he’s unsure of when the new unit will arrive, but estimates that it will probably cost between $45,000 to $50,000, which NJIT will pay for as part of its contract with GDS.
While GDS waits for the new belt to arrive, concerned students have been calling for more environmentally-friendly, and potentially more expensive, solutions for when the dishwasher is not operational.
“As a facility that provides food for thousands of students,” Ji said, “at the very least management should offer biodegradable or compostable plates and utensils to reduce what is already a large amount of waste coming out of the dining hall.”