Eliminating individually packaged condiments in favor of bulk supplies. Buying cooking oil from Planet Fry, a company that uses recycled oil to power its vehicles. Maintaining a Green Ideas Board, where students can offer suggestions for green initiatives. Transitioning to water- and power-saving equipment and switching to low-energy fluorescent bulbs; turning lights off during the day.
Many of University Dining Services’ sustainability initiatives are so small they may have escaped your notice, but even the subtlest, simplest changes can have a huge effect on the size of the university’s carbon footprint. One of Dining Services’ boldest green changes was the decision to go tray-less.
According to associate director of Dining Gerry Shehan, removing trays from the buffet-style dining halls caused students to take less food that they would later trash: at the Upper Deck the end result was that annual food waste was reduced by 15 tons. Prior to the subtraction of trays from the equation, Mr. Shehan said, “We were gathering about 100 tons of food waste per year [from the Upper Deck].” At the North Side Bistro, that number was closer to 40 tons.
“One of the things I’ll do regularly,” said Mr. Shehan, “is look at the dish return area. Students are better about it now, but people used to throw away trays full of food.” Thirty thousand fewer pounds of wasted food is meaningful progress, but now the responsibility to reduce waste even further rests in students’ hands. Customers at the Upper Deck alone still throw out 85 tons of food annually.
wastes over 1 gigaton (that’s a billion tons) of food per year, or one-third of the total food produced; in an article for Grist.org, John Upton cites the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) finding that “Without accounting for [greenhouse gas] emissions from land-use change, the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent: as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter after USA and China.” The stunning impact of wasted food on the planet is partly attributable to methane gas emitted by rotting food.
How does our society waste this much food? According to Upton, the FAO found that “some farmers dump 20 to 40 percent of their harvest because it ‘doesn’t meet retailers’ cosmetic specifications.’” Responsibility also falls on restaurants, retailers, distributors and individual consumers.
At Millersville, Mr. Shehan is certain that about 95% of the responsibility for food wastage falls on the consumer. Because Dining Services employees carefully monitor the level of demand for every dish they prepare and serve, and put out leftovers when they are still good, very little gets wasted before the food meets the plate.
Like many sustainability initiatives geared toward the reduction of excessive resource consumption, reducing food waste even further would have an impact on everyone’s financial bottom line. When students take less food they don’t need, Dining will record the decrease in demand and, in turn, purchase smaller quantities of ingredients, which will drive their food costs down. About 33% of the cost of a meal plan is based on the cost of food (the other two-thirds account for labor and overhead costs), so food waste reduction has the potential to drive down meal prices