By Jacob Schaperow

A student throws out his polystyrene plate after dining at the Rosenbloom Hillel Center for Jewish Life. It costs 3 cents per plate. (Jacob Schaperow/The Mitzpeh)

Three hundred and seventy cubic feet. That’s about how much polystyrenewaste is generated by students on the Hillel dining plan each week. Polystyrene is the plastic foam used to make the plates and cups students on the Hillel meal plan become accustomed to using, and 370 cubic feet is enough solid waste to fill up the entire 16,700 square foot Rosenbloom Hillel Center in about 10 years.

Polystyrene waste is problematic for the environment for a number of reasons, foremost its non-biodegradability. While Maryland Hillel does a commendable job fostering community and Jewish learning, its environmental track record leaves room for improvement.

The UMD campus diners should serve as a model for Hillel’s food operation. Guided by their “sustainable food action plan,” the diners aim to reduce the impact of their waste through recycling and composting and use education to increase recycling rates. The diners not only avoid polystyrene, they diners even use reusable carry-out containers. due to the high standard of kashrut in the Hillel kitchens, I do not expect reusable take-out, but I would like to see Hillel take a more active role pursuing sustainable practices for its cafeteria.

Last summer, Hillel applied for a sustainability grant through the university’s Office of Sustainability to clean up its act. Representatives from the Office of Sustainability inspected the Hillel kitchens and determined that the most sustainable solution to the waste production issue would be to switch to a dishwasher system. However, the facilities were found to be unsuitable for the major overhaul that would be necessary to get a dishwasher system running, according to Emily Minton, operations associate at Maryland Hillel, so Hillel gave up on the grant.

Minton said that the start-up costs — buying and installing the equipment — would be too expensive. Hillel would need a conveyor belt system, a high-powered dish pit system, and two sets of dishes, for milk and meat. The other challenge is space. There is not that much room in the Hillel kitchen. Fitting all that equipment in the kitchen would be a task akin to cramming all my roommates’ Morningstar veggie patties into our single 4.2 cubic-foot freezer.

The big opportunity that I see for sustainability at Hillel is the semi-mythical “new building” that we’ve been hearing about over the past couple years. Though the $15 million facility is very much TBD, as of last year, the intent for the building was to have double the current floor space as the current Hillel building, according to a statement by the Baltimore Jewish Council in March 2013. This would allow plenty of space for a dishwashing system.

The ideal solution would be for Hillel to install a dishwashing system if the new building is built. Improved recycling and composting operations should be implemented to reduce waste in the meantime. Hillel could then reapply for the UMD sustainability grant as the building plans progress. I would also like to see the new Hillel building earn LEED certification — the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification that new campus buildings, including Prince Frederick Hall and Oakland Hall — are required to earn according to the university’s sustainable building policy. It would save energy, be a positive public relations point, and it might give the Office of Sustainability incentive to give Hillel some grant money.
Jacob Schaperow is a civil engineering – environmental and water resources major. He can be reached at


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