At one of the lunches provided at last week's AASHE conference, I was involved in a conversation with an opposite number from another campus when -- from across a crowded room -- I had a flash of insight. Or I caught a flash of something and formed an insight. Probably 5 or 6 years after it should have occurred to me anyway.
If you've ever been to any large conference, you've done the drill. Walk down the hallway from your last session of the morning. Go past the uniformed conference security folk who look at your badge (or at least at the color of the lanyard around your neck). Stride past the vendor area (you're hungry, and they'll still be there after you've eaten). Stand in the line for the buffet table or sidle up to the grab-and-go boxed meals. Figure out where the utensils are hidden (did you miss them on your way to the food?). Find a seat at a 10-round with some folks who look familiar, or unfamiliar, or unthreatening, or at least not overly numerous. Ingest.
So I'd done all that, and I'd found someone to chat with, and I'd unwrapped the paper napkin from around the commercially compostable plastic utensils (this was a sustainability conference, after all!). And I'd started enjoying the meal about as much as I expected to, and then I glanced up and -- at a table 30-40 feet distant -- I saw it! A metal spork! In the hands of a conference attendee who'd obviously brought it herself. Not compostable. Technically recyclable, but only at the end of a long (long, long, long) useful life. Reusable in spades. Which is to say, more sustainable than what I -- as virtually every other person in attendance -- was using.
The insight was instantaneous. We carry reusable water bottles so we always have something to drink without creating gratuitous waste. We (at least, those of us who grew up in rural areas) carry knives, so we always have a way to cut large servings into bite-sized portions. But once that has been accomplished, how do we convey those bite-sized portions to our oral orifices? We're generally unequipped. 'Tis a puzzlement!
But a puzzlement no longer! At Greenback (as at many colleges and universities), we give each entering student a reusable water bottle. I don't know that I'm going to be able to convince the administration to pony up for a spork as well, but it's worth looking into. As with water bottles, there seems to be quite a number of different models, different designs, different qualities and durability, hence different prices.
So maybe we'll position sporks as a sign of involvement -- of membership in an elite class of students concerned with sustainability. (If so, we'll want to make sure the ones we pick are cool enough that the operative term for the minority of students is "elite" and not "nerdly".)
And then there's that "assume the student is carrying a knife" thing. Not an issue for those of us who realize that a readily portable cutting/shaping/screwdriving implement is the most basic and useful of tools. Potentially more so for folks who hear "knife" and think "deadly weapon". But any such objections can and will be overcome. After all, if a spork isn't the ultimate answer to the problem of plastic eating utensils, there's always the runcible spoon!