The average U.S. college student produces 142 pounds of food waste per year, adding up to hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted at each school. According to Julian Dautremont-Smith of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), “There are two related drivers of food waste in the buffet-style dining halls that are common on campuses: 1) food service providers often make more than they expect to serve in order to ensure that they don't run out and 2) students often take more than they actually eat.”
Fortunately, the best methods for reducing both of these causes are extremely simple. Below are four refreshingly commonsense strategies for curbing food waste in colleges.
The experts all agree: going tray-less is the single best way to reduce food waste in colleges.
Campuses can significantly reduce food waste just by removing trays from the dining hall. Studies have documented major reductions in food waste resulting simply from a switch to tray-less dining.
Julian Dautremont-Smith | Director of Programming, AASHE
Rutgers University is a prime example of just how dramatic a difference tray-less dining can make. Within just 10 weeks of going tray-less, the school saw a 20 percent reduction in food waste—and $300,000 worth of food cost savings. Unable to pile a tray with everything that catches their eye, students think more carefully about what they actually want, causing much less waste.
Another very simple way to curb food waste in colleges is to present food in individual portions whenever practical. For example, schools have found that when a whole pizza is set out, students take larger portions than when slices are set out individually.
It’s also important to place foods that are commonly eaten together in close proximity to each other in the dining hall. When such foods are separated, students often thoughtlessly grab other items on their way to what they really wanted.
Colleges can also reduce food waste simply by making it easy for students to save uneaten food for later. The best method for doing this is to provide students with reusable or compostable carry-out containers. The University of Houston recently implemented a system in which students can pay a $5 deposit for a reusable to-go container to remove leftover food from the dining hall. Once the food is eaten, they can return the container in exchange for their deposit back, another container or a tag to redeem a new container later.
A sizable portion of food waste in colleges is caused by students’ eyes being bigger than their stomachs. By giving students access to eco-friendly to-go containers, you go a long way toward preventing this tendency from causing waste.
When dining services overestimate how much food to prepare, schools can curb waste by distributing the leftovers to those in need. Often, the best way to do this is to partner with specific local charities to create a collection and distribution plan that matches their needs. Campus Kitchens Project is a nonprofit that helps student volunteers create new meals out of quality leftovers which they can then deliver to charities or directly to food-insecure families.
While most methods for reducing food waste in colleges address the student-level causes, putting a distribution plan in place for leftovers ensures that administration-level waste is also lessened.