The University of Nevada at Reno uses friendly competition to encourage students to waste less food

The university held a competition between students and staff to see who could waste less food throughout April, in honor of Stop Food Waste Day.
the WasteNot Competition
The WasteNot competition was held throughout April. | Photo courtesy of the University of Nevada at Reno.

On April 21, the Chartwells Higher Education team at The University of Nevada at Reno saw a decrease in the amount of food wasted by students by 27%. How did the team accomplish it? By hosting a friendly competition between students and staff, encouraging them to waste less food. The competition, dubbed WasteNot, started in April, leading up to the grand finale on April 24, which is Compass Group’s (the parent company of Chartwells Higher Education) annual Stop Food Waste Day

Throughout the month of April, the dining team has been tracking students’ waste weekly through a program called WasteNot 2.0, a food waste management system that the university uses in the back-of-house.

“So, we have been recording the amount of food and they waste from their data if they're not eating it,” said Nancy Roman, director of residential dining at the university. “We are recording the percentages and pounds, so for example, we went from 16,000 pounds to 900 pounds, which is a huge drop.”

While the competition was a big hit, it took a while for the team to accomplish these numbers. Roman said once students became aware of the competition and the marketing efforts began to take off, students’ waste began to dwindle.

“I think when students started to see more of the marketing for the competition, when they started to hear the staff talking about it, then, most recently, on April 21, we saw the biggest decrease for students, which was 27% decrease in food waste, which is awesome,” said Roman.

And the competition was close, with staff starting in the lead, but students making a comeback. In the end however, staff took the lead. While there was no prize, besides bragging rights, the team hopes doing the right thing was an incentive itself.

“The whole purpose of this was to kickstart awareness around food waste. So even though there's no incentive, prize wise, every day, there's an incentive of doing the right thing and filling your plate to what you're actually going to eat and not letting it go to waste,” said Regina Flores, communication specialist at the university. “We hope that this incentivizes students to just be mindful of their food waste and help us in reducing food waste.”

But, still, the dining team wanted to ensure students felt like their hard work was appreciated. So even though the staff took home the victory, the team wanted to do something to celebrate everybody’s accomplishments. So, they put together a Zero Waste Station that will be on offer at dinner on May 3.

Marketing Sustainability

The team attributes the competition’s success in part to the team’s marketing efforts. Staff decorated the dining hall with signs spotlighting the competition and to incentivize students to pay attention to the event, the team also hosted two giveaways per week throughout the month. Flores said they decided to go shopping at the campus store and purchased sustainable items such as tote bags, reusable water bottles and recycled lanyards. They also gave away food vouchers.

The marketing team has been hard at work with sustainability projects as of late. They also held a farmers market-themed celebration in which students were invited to partake in various sustainable activities. One highlight of the event was the sustainability pledge.

“We had these little papers, like paper made from recycled posters that we had in the past. We cut them up into rectangles, and then students could write down their pledge to sustainability,” said Flores.

Students wrote down a variety of things related to being more sustainable, including small habits like using recycled water bottles or bigger steps like using bikes to get to school instead of cars.

“Just to kind of inspire each other to do more things for greener campus. And then we cut them up and we put them up in this rack. It's like a rack and they would take a string. And then yeah, it was really cute and a really fun way to involve the students,” said Flores.

Then for completing the pledge, students received a pin that was made in house.

“So it says, for reference, our school is silver and blue colors, and one of our taglines is ‘make silver and blue, the new green.’ So the pin said ‘I made silver and blue the new green.’ And it was just a really cute, fun way to celebrate,” said Flores.



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