Food Waste and Sustainability on Campus

Posted on April 25th, 2017

Reducing Food Waste is A Smart Campus Investment

Studies show that a single college campus trashes 169,000 pounds of perfectly edible food every year. Students’ eating habits certainly are not helping. According to Recycling Works, a government-run waste program in Massachusetts, the average student who lives on campus throws away 141 pounds of uneaten food annually.

How can your institution’s food services make a difference in food waste and sustainability? We did some research and are offering some suggestions. Some of these are simple and easy to incorporate and others are more elaborate programs to increase the sustainability efforts of the food services contractors.

Last year, The Food Recovery Network, a nationwide organization run by students, turned 388,840 pounds of campus-produced food waste into more than 300,000 meals for those in need. In the United States, there are 217 Chapters of this organization in 44 states that donate campus food leftovers. Click here for a current list of chapters. This is a great way to fight food waste and feed people.

In the United States alone, 40% of food is never eaten, but one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table. By donating food, or rather redirecting unspoiled food from landfill to our neighbors in need, we can support local communities and reduce environmental impact. Non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food, as well as leftovers from events and surplus food inventory, can be donated. Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 encourages individuals or businesses to donate food to nonprofits while minimizing liability.

Wondering where your college dining venues can donate food? The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks secures and distributes 4 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States and leads the nation to engage in the fight against hunger. Click here to find the local community food bank near your campus.

Sustainability – Managing our resource base to share the earth with future generations

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, 2017. Its mission is to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle to build a healthy, sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations.

Earth Day Network launched its higher education campaign, MobilizeU, in 2012. MobilizeU is an international movement of concerned and active students and administrators united around their common interest of environmental action in support of a sustainable future for all. This year, MobilizeU will play a critical role as the Higher Education ambassador for Earth Day. Start the sustainability conversation and community action on your campus by organizing an Environmental & Climate Literacy Teach-In.

Try using technology to encourage recycling. Sell reusable beverage cups for use in the student union/center. One institution had each cup embedded with an RFID chip that allows students to obtain prepaid refills from a Freestyle Coke machines; a five-drink recharge is $4.99. The chip is activated whenever a cup is brought in proximity to one of the machines on campus. They were able to sell more than 300 cups in the first two weeks of service.

Consider utilizing garden planters for herbs and fresh vegetables in sunny locations close to your cafeteria. A Midwest college placed 15 planters of herbs and vegetables that they were able to harvest and use during peak times. This initiative went along with their other sustainable efforts and gave the chefs great organic ingredients year-round. They saved the coffee grounds from the coffee shops and dining halls around campus in 5-gallon buckets, then used the grounds for mulch as a medium to grow mushrooms, and for compost in campus gardens. Coffee grounds are a natural insect repellent and they smell great.

Reducing food waste is possible and necessary. We can all take up a new role to improve American food systems by making them more efficient and less wasteful.

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