Campus Waste

A month ago, I wrote a post about college food waste. After more research, it’s worth taking a closer look. Thanks to RecycleMania, a college recycling contest that has a food waste category, we have access to some interesting numbers.

In the aforementioned Food Service Organics category, Rutgers University leads the list by with a three-week total of 79.05 pounds of food per person per week. That means the average Rutgers student or staff member throws out 26 pounds of food per week or about 1.25 pounds at every meal. 

Think about that for a second. I’m no mathematician, but that’s the same as the “beef” of five McDonald’s Quarter Pounders at every meal.

Dianne Gravatt, Rutgers Director of Environmental Services, said that their numbers are much higher than other competitors’ because they mistakenly used the food waste’s weight before they deliquified it. Many schools use Somat machines or “pulpers” to remove 75 to 80 percent of the water content, the real culprit in food waste’s heavyness. After Rutgers corrects its data, “We’re still going to be number one, but we’re not gonna be that high,” Gravatt said.

Well…Rutgers’ totals may go down if they report their pulped food weight, but unfortunately, the amount students waste seems accurate. To verify these numbers, I spoke with the Jim Verner, the guy who oversees the recycling of Rutgers’ food waste. Verner, facilities supervisor for the Division of Dining Services, said that last year a local pig farmer collected about 3,000 tons of (deliquified) food waste from the school.  If you add in the wet weight, convert to pounds and divide by the number of meal plan students, you get 33 pounds per person per week or more than one and a half pounds per person per meal.

Make that six Quarter Pounders.

To be fair, those numbers include inedible food preparation scraps. But they don’t include the food students discard when they eat takeout, which Verner says represents between 40 to 50 percent of all meals.

I should point out that Rutgers is on the right side of the food waste battle. While they may be squandering large amounts, at least they send their excess food to pig farmers (a win-win, since it costs them 50 percent less per ton than sending it to landfills). We have no reason to believe Rutgers wastes more or less than any other university, just that they’re better or more conscientious about recycling it. The reason we’re talking about them here is because they’re putting their numbers out there.

OK, fine–it’s also because their numbers are huge.

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