Discount Den’s popular “Den Pop” sodas are a new focal point for Purdue Student Government, which is pushing to make the drinks more eco-friendly by implementing reusable cups.
“The Den Cup will be an inexpensive, student-designed reusable cup option sold at the Discount Den to cut back on styrofoam cups and plastic straws,” said Mason Merkel, director of sustainability for PSG, via email.
PSG wanted to involve the community to take steps toward sustainability.
“The Den Cup project started in PSG when we were brainstorming ways to get local businesses involved in sustainability,” Merkel said. “The Discount Den is known for its openness to be an idea testing ground for students.”
PSG decided not to focus on recycling because recycling for students is quite hard to actually accomplish, Merkel said.
“Many Purdue apartment units do not have recycling, despite its ‘150 Years of Giant Leaps’ emphasis on sustainable environment,” Merkel said. “Students don’t live in the classroom where there are abundant recycling bins. Students need recycling in their homes.”
Merkel said the time to start helping the planet is now, even if the Den Cup is a small step towards that.
“The Den Cup is obviously not the end-all, be-all to saving the planet,” Merkel said. “But just like metal straws, it is an easy alternative that creates an impact, however small it is.”
The co-owner of the Discount Den, Matt Garofalo, said the store has been making more strides toward creating a better environment by having the option to purchase metal straws instead of plastic.
“The customer base wants us to be more eco-friendly,” Garofalo said. “In tandem with that, we now offer metal straws, so people have the option to choose between the plastic straw for their Den Pop or they can pick up a metal one to reuse.”
The cups are currently made out of polystyrene. Though polystyrene is a recyclable material, not all recycling plants take it.
Certain environmental advocates recommend that people should either reduce their use of polystyrene or separate it to put into landfills so it doesn’t contaminate the rest of the recyclables, but reducing use is better.
“(Polystyrene) does not readily biodegrade, and it has been estimated that it takes at least 500 years for plastic foam to break down,” says the Green Dining Alliance’s webpage, an organization that certifies restaurants in sustainability. “That means a foam cup in use today will still be in a landfill in (2519).”
Garofalo said the Discount Den has been working on switching to reusable cups.
“Right now, we have selected the cup size and what it would look like,” Garofalo said. “Now, it’s more the aesthetic of what will be printed on the cup, the graphic design, that we are still working on.”
PSG and the Discount Den have been working together to host a design contest for students to submit their own designs for the cup.
“We have partnered with (PSG) to host a contest where students would submit their designs,” Garofalo said. “We would be more than happy to incorporate any of those ideas into the design of the cup.”
Several students liked the idea of having reusable Den Pop cups.
“I would definitely look into a reusable cup,” said Leah Leonard-Kandarapally, a senior in the College of Pharmacy. “The cups right now are (polystyrene), which I feel like is way worse than plastic, so for environmental reasons I would buy one.”
Even if the cost was high, Leonard-Kandarapally said she would still buy the cup because of the environmental benefits.
“I would still buy it if it cost like $12,” Leonard-Kandrapally said. “I would not need any incentive to buy it, it would just be the right thing to do.”
Some students believe that an incentive or special offer would be needed for them to purchase a reusable cup because of a potential price difference.
“I feel like if they did a deal where if you spend a certain amount of money at the Den, you get a discount, ... the reusable cups would make more sense.” said CJ Wright, a junior in the College of Pharmacy.
PSG is still debating on whether or not it will add a discount with the purchase of a reusable cup.
“We are still negotiating whether to make a discount offer on Den Pops for when a customer brings their Den Cup,” Merkel said. “But there will certainly be an incentive to buy the cup.”
Wright also said he thinks the cup would be difficult to make practical, considering the large cup sizes.
“I think the practicality is a little tough because a lot of people get (Den Pops) while they are on campus,” Wright said. “Den Pops are so big that carrying around a metal cup that large would kind of be a hassle.”
Even though the cup is still in a design stage, Merkel said that the idea of the cup shows that students are working on issues bigger than themselves.
“The stereotype of college students being annoying activists is very true,” Merkel said. “The reduce-reuse-recycle slogan is meant to be practiced in that order. Today, it is easy to choose the throw-away option, so we just want to remind ourselves to think first.”