2009 Environmental Survey: Paler shade of green

FoodService Director's first Environmental Study find out how operators are tackling sustainability.

Me, personally?: When it comes to the environmental problems facing our planet, opinions vary widely on what is the biggest challenge. For 34% of operators, waste is the most serious problem, while 28% said global warming is our biggest threat. Pollution was a major concern for 26% of respondents, with 17% specifying water pollution and 9% citing air pollution. Other serious challenges included loss of the ozone layer, animal extinction and acid rain.

Whatever their corporate or institutional policies, virtually every operator said they personally take steps to try and make a positive impact on the environment. Eighty-six percent said they do recycling at home, 85% said they try to conserve energy and 69% said they try to conserve water. Driving less was cited by 47% of respondents, buying “green” products by 34%, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles by 32% and buying local/sustainable/organic products by 30%.

Read on for case studies of a university and a hospital system striving to make a positive environmental statement in their institutions and their communities.

Gearing Up Green

A compost program paired with trayless dining and biodegradables is raising UC-Riverside’s environmental profile.

At 18,000-student University of California, Riverside, a new compost waste management program, along with trayless dining and a switch to biodegradable disposals have put the university well on its way to catching up with the state’s mandates for becoming a zero-waste campus. Gustavo Plascencia, general manager of residential dining, says that last June the university came up short on a statewide university goal to divert at least 50% of its waste from the landfill, but a new partnership with a waste management company (Athens Services) will help put them over the mark.

“The state set goals for all UC universities that said they should achieve 50% waste diversion by June of 2008, 75% by June 2012 and zero waste by 2020,” Plascencia says. “So each campus was instructed to look at their operations and come up with a plan to meet these diversion goals. We did not achieve the 50% that we should have last June. We were actually at 42%. So a campus committee has been looking at implementing a new recycling program to help us reach those diversion goals, and last month we hired a waste management company. Athens has helped other UC campuses reach an 87% diversion rate, so they’re already beyond the 75% for 2012. The campus has always looked at food waste as a big part of our landfill waste so if we divert that it will put us over 50% right away.”

The agreement was signed in mid-March, and Plascencia says the department hopes to have the program fully in place by July 1. Currently, Dining Services is working on a plan for how the collection will be done to be most cost-effective.

“We’re going to have some green containers in the kitchen so the staff will put only food waste in those,” Plascencia says. “Once those fill up, they’ll roll them out to the loading dock to a container for only food waste and the goal is to empty those containers daily. Right now we are trying to analyze what it’s going to cost if we have a daily pick-up from Athens, which would get really expensive. So we’re thinking of building a transfer station on campus where we can have a larger container where our own employees can take the food waste from each loading dock. From there, Athens could pick up the larger container and it would be a much lower cost. Athens will then compost the material for us and make it available to use for campus landscaping as well as for use in a new student community garden.”

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Along with being more secure, the new cards will allow students easier access to dining halls, enabling them to simply tap their cards on a reader to gain entrance. Students will also be able to add flex points and Domer Dollars—which can be used at eateries on and off campus—to their accounts via a mobile app.

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University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., has replaced a fajita bar in one of its dining halls with a superfoods bar, Tommie Media reports.

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A large part of menuing allergen-friendly cuisine is deciding which gluten-free items to serve.

In particular, college dining hall operators must decide whether to make gluten-free items in-house or to order gluten-free items from a manufacturer. Some factors to consider are: the size of the university, the demand for gluten-free options,and the ability to have separate gluten-free storage and workspaces in the university dining hall kitchen.

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