Ever since March, COVID-19 has caused many regulations to be put in place in order to ensure safety in various communities. Some of these regulations can lead to negative impacts on the environment over time.

Messiah University has been forced to require multiple safety procedures that limit sustainability efforts on campus, specifically in dining.

Rachel McLaren, senior sustainability major and waste coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, has taken note of the recent changes.

“The biggest thing for sustainability is losing dining-in at Lottie,” McLaren said. “We worked with dining a couple years ago to get discounts for using plates instead of to-go or a discount if you brought your own to-go cups for coffee. Now those are not options because of COVID-19.”

While everyone’s number one concern right now is staying healthy and safe during the pandemic, the changes can still be hard to swallow, yet also necessary.

“With any health crisis, being sanitary means using one-use products. We can’t use the same box at Lottie again or refill our water bottles. A lot more plastic is being used but at some point, it is unavoidable,” McLaren said.

Director of Sustainability, Brandon Hoover, said, “Dining came to us right away to try and find a solution that didn’t undo the tremendous sustainability work over the last few years. By partnering and being transparent, Messiah found a way to move from an oil based styrofoam to a paper base for the to-go containers.” 

While challenges remain, there are still many ways Messiah Dining and students can be more eco-friendly when it comes to their food choices on campus.

“Students should bring their own reusable bag and not use a plastic bag. They should get compostable containers if possible, and also bring their own silverware,” McLaren said.

Lori Chance, the sustainability program coordinator, wants students to take the time to consider how they eat on campus.

“The other thing we’re trying to promote is just mindfulness about what you take,” Chance said. “Really only take the things that you think you’re truly going to eat.”

The choices you make after you eat are equally as important as the choices before. Campus Dining and the Office of Sustainability are continuing to make composting a priority.

“Everyone should take time to learn where things go and compost your food,” McLaren said. “Any food and clam shells should never go in the landfill. We have organics trash bins near the dumpsters for compost. If people learn those things, it will make this pandemic better. People should learn recycling anytime but it’s so important now because of our increased use of plastic.”

Although Messiah is facing some setbacks in terms of headway in eco-friendly dining, they are still making strides in other areas of sustainability.

Students may have become familiar by now with the bikeshare program and new E-Bikes on campus.

So far, 18 out of 20 bikes have been requested by students through the bikeshare program. This is a large increase from the six bikes that were rented last year.

Campus safety is moving to bikes as well. A grant has allowed them to start using electric bikes to get around.

“Using E-Bikes instead of driving cuts down on their gas usage,” McLaren said. “We also got one E-Bike to give to professors to try out, so they can see if they would want to commute. We’re making bike commuting a reality for them.”

“Overall, since COVID-19, 25% of faculty and staff have begun working from home,” Chance said. “That reduces carbon emission [by 260 tons of CO2] from their vehicles.”

Bike commuting from home or the Oakwood Hills apartments is a more sustainable way of travel for employees and students.

The Sustainability Office isn’t stopping at just bikes, however. They have an exciting new opportunity students can get involved in later this semester.

“We’re planting over 500 trees on October 2 to help with reforestation on campus,” Chance said. “They will be planted along the entrance of Messiah, on cemetery hill.”

These tree saplings will be provided by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, along with instruction on how to plant them properly.

“We can always use more volunteers,” McLaren said. “We need 50 people for the tree planting and have around 30 so far.”

If students are interested in being involved with the tree planting, visit the Office of Sustainability’s website or contact them to be added to the email distribution list.

The Sustainability Office is always full of surprises in what they have to offer students.

“I think one thing the community on campus doesn’t know about us is that we’re not only about environmental well-being but also about human well-being,” Chance said. “We want to remind everybody to practice self-care. Physical distancing doesn’t mean social distancing. You can still have valid friendships and relationships without being physically close. Just keep your mental health well and take care of your friends.”