How U.S. college campuses waste over 300 million pounds of food per year
College students are getting a bad rap these days. New concepts like “Micro-aggressions” and “Safe Spaces” are rubbing lots of people the wrong way, and creating an impression of academia as a place of shelter from the “real” world the rest of us have to deal with. But left out of this conversation are the very real actions many students are taking to deal with some of the most pressing issues of our time. For just one example, let’s talk food waste.
College cafeterias are wasting large amounts of food
The Food Recovery Network (FRN) is a student led organization whose mission is to take waste from colleges and put it to good use. Since its founding at the University of Maryland in 2011, FRN has turned food waste into over 800,000 meals for individuals in need. The process is straightforward. They take leftover food from college campuses and deliver them to homeless shelters or similar establishments. With just this simple logistics system in place, the efforts of this organization have led to more than 1 million pounds of food avoiding the landfill.
This is a huge accomplishment, to be sure, but it’s a drop in the bucket of the food waste problem at universities, much less the country as a whole. The numbers are staggering:
- 169,000 - Pounds of food wasted each year at an average college campus, according to a study by Virginia Tech.
- 141 - Recycle Waste says this is the number of pounds wasted per student living on campus. average student who lives on campus throws away 141 pounds of uneaten food annually, from research compiled via Recycle Waste.
- 50 - Tons of food per month go into the garbage at UCLA every single month.
With all that food (and the dollars it cost to buy and make it) making its way to landfills, colleges are starting to take note. They’re using their greatest assets--the brilliant minds that roam their halls, and a commitment to research based solutions--to tackle the problem with sound science and creativity.
Ditch the tray
Food wasted on college campuses often gets a lot less attention than food consumed, and the curse of the “Freshman Fifteen” is in the back of every new student’s mind. College buffets are a major catalyst to the extra cushion around the waist, but there is a simple solution that could shrink the student waist and food waste.
Many major colleges are taking away a hidden-in-plain-sight tool for overindulging: the plastic tray. A seemingly innocuous carrying device to most of us, some see the tray as a hand-held feeding trough. Bolstering the latter view, evidence shows removing the tray improves students’ health and addresses food waste. A study conducted by Aramark in 2008 looked at over 186,000 meals at 25 colleges, and concluded that when college dining halls take away trays, food waste is decreased by 25% to 30%. That same Aramark study discovered another unsettling number, each tray requires one-third to one-half gallon of water to clean...
Bring the Problem to the Forefront
Getting any college student to pay attention to something for more than three seconds is a tough task, and in some cases even trying to get college students to look up from their phones can be a challenge. If you capture their attention for a minute, then that impression has shown to be a difference in their attitude toward food waste. Kansas State University conducted a study in 2013 to look into how different awareness campaigns could contribute to lowering food waste. The study concluded that when done well, anti- food waste campaigns had a tremendous impact on colleges and their students, reducing waste by up to 15%.
Know You Have Resources
Taking away trays and blasting students with awareness campaigns is a great start, but those efforts focus only on the end user. There is plenty to be done behind the kitchen door too, and colleges should know that there are tools out there that can help them stay efficient “back of house”. Two that come to mind immediately are BlueCart and Hazel Technologies.
BlueCart allows college dining halls to order all their food and supplies quickly and easily, through the web or mobile app. When ordering is less painful, buyers order only what they need, and are less likely to try to over order things that could go bad before it’s time to use them. Plus, the food ordering software allows dining hall operators the ability to look at order history, analytics, and communication with suppliers on one screen, which gives them the information they need to make better ordering decisions in the future.
Hazel Technologies has developed a biodegradable capsule called FruitBrite which controls produce freshness and in turn eliminates waste in the supply chain, while reducing shrink for produce suppliers.
Food waste is the kind of tangible problem that colleges and college students can really get their hands on. They’re already doing that in some ways, but there is always more to be done. Fortunately, new tools are being developed to help them going forward. Those tools, combined with the energy and enthusiasm students bring to the effort, could just make real progress in the fight against food waste. Here’s to seeing what those crazy college kids get up to next!
Matthew Katz is a Marketing Associate at BlueCart. BlueCart is a free online and mobile ordering platform that helps restaurants and suppliers simplify their ordering process, strengthen relationships, and gain powerful insight into their business operations. You can learn more at BlueCart.com
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