story | Rhyhan Astha, Senior Writer
photo | I’dECO
From Mar. 18–22, Café Agora stopped serving drinks in disposable cups as part of WasteLess Week, an initiative led by I’dECO, a student organization which advocates for environmental issues, which aimed to promote waste reduction and help students go zero-waste within Yale-NUS College.
One of the members of I’dECO who coordinated WasteLess Week, Coco Oan ’22, said, “Getting people to participate in [WasteLess Week] is an urgent and necessary task, given that our planet will only continue to be assailed by an increasing amount of trash— an amount that is inherently unsustainable for the planet and too much for Singapore’s own landfill to absorb.”
As part of WasteLess Week, a few initiatives were implemented, including the “Rent-A-Tumbler” system, where students could rent a reusable tumbler from Sodexo with a $5 deposit. The system was implemented to ensure that students could bring their drinks out of Café Agora during WasteLess Week despite the lack of disposable cups.
Another aim of the “Rent-A-Tumbler” system was to encourage students to bring their own bottles to Agora and reduce the use of disposable cups. According to I’dECO, Café Agora goes through about 200 plastic cups and 100 paper cups every day.
This is not the first time that Sodexo has attempted to reduce the amount of waste in their services. On United World College Singapore campuses, Sodexo has implemented a similar Bring-Your-Own (BYO) scheme in collaboration with student groups campaigning for environmental sustainability and waste reduction.
Some students enjoyed the “Rent-A-Tumbler” system. Sun Jie Min ’22 said, “It’s very convenient to just deposit $5 and sign your name in order to borrow the Cafe Agora tumbler. Also, it’s very convenient to carry it around.”
Not all students were on board with the scheme. Khym Fong ’21 said that ‘dabao’, or take away, culture is so ingrained in her that she does not have the habit of using reusable mugs. While she is not against the movement, during WasteLess Week, Fong simply avoided Cafe Agora and instead patronized Foodclique, the food court at Utown.
WasteLess Week also aimed to spark greater dialogue about food waste in Yale-NUS. Mobile blackboards were placed in the Cendana, Elm and Saga dining halls as well as at Café Agora. On these boards, students were invited to write a response to questions such as why food waste is an issue, and what individuals and Sodexo can do to reduce food waste.
Still, many students did not know that WasteLess Week was happening. Oan said, “Despite us trying our best to publicize in all channels we have access to, one big problem of WasteLess Week was people being unaware of the program. Café Agora staff had to repeat that they were not serving disposables throughout the week.” As a result, many students were frustrated at not being able to receive disposable cups for their drinks.
Problems also arose for students who wanted to consume their drinks at the Agora due to a shortage of reusable mugs that the staff could serve drinks in. As the week went on, many of the reusable mugs went missing due to Café Agora patrons not returning their mugs. This prompted efforts from both Sodexo and I’dECO to remind patrons to return their mugs.
Fong also added that Café Agora required patrons to pay a deposit for reusable mugs, saying “I probably would have paid the deposit, except Agora only accepted cash and I am cashless.” She said that if the policy was extended beyond WasteLess Week, she might have been forced to adapt to it and use reusable mugs.