Waste reduction results beyond the environment

food graphic

The buffet tables in the dining halls at the University of California, Santa Cruz were impressively arranged with plates teeming with sandwiches, pizzas, fries and vegetables. However, the food no longer was edible.

Interns from UCSC’s Campus Sustainability Plan had fished uneaten meals from trash cans and plated them for display on cloth-covered tables. The display helped raise awareness for dining services’ food waste reduction efforts, says Clint Jeffries, dining unit manager and sustainability manager at UCSC.

“It educated them all,” Jeffries says. “There was food that should not have been taken, as it wasn’t eaten.” The tables also contributed to UCSC Dining’s 2015 Food Recovery Challenge award, a program created by the EPA to assist organizations that have pledged to improve sustainable food management practices (2016 award winners will be announced later this year).

Through food recovery, waste reduction and sustainability challenges, foodservice operators, particularly at schools and universities, are issuing mandates to reach a zero-waste goal. And some have promised to increase the amount of unprocessed, local and organic foods on menus. Meeting these challenges requires cooperation and buy-in from everyone involved, foodservice directors say.

At UCSC, staffers focused on preconsumer waste, reducing the amount of vegetable and other food scraps created during prep, while monitoring the amount of food consumed and cutting back on less popular dishes, Jeffries says. The campus was able to eliminate 100 tons of food waste, donate 1,000 pounds of food and divert 650 tons of food from landfills by expanding composting efforts, saving more than $19,000 in food and food disposal costs.

Employees at Worcester, Mass.-based Clark University’s dining services were recognized and rewarded when they were able to reduce waste during food prep, says Heather Vaillette, district manager for Sodexo Campus Services in Massachusetts.

Clark had committed to the Real Food Challenge—a goal of annually serving 20% “real food” as measured by expenses by 2020; the campus currently is at 12%. The challenge was the result of a push by students to increase the amount of food that is locally sourced, ecologically sound, humanely raised and fairly traded.

Clark’s Dining Services has been able to purchase more organic food with money saved from its food waste reduction efforts—weighing food, tracking usage and pooling with other Sodexo operators to get better purchase prices from suppliers on compostable paper goods, she said.

When a goal seems lofty or hard to reach, begin by taking small steps, Vaillette says. “Start with composting or bottled water reduction or preconsumer waste reduction,” she says. “When people see the results and gain a sense of pride at accomplishing something, then look at what more you can do.” 

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