More Campus Waste

As an example of campus food waste, Rutgers University students and staff waste more than one and a half pounds of food per meal. How do colleges waste so much food? In one quasi-word: All-you-can-eat. Given the food recycling figures from some schools, it seems more like all-you-can-waste.

With escalating room and board fees and upscale college dining, students expect variety and plenty and they get both. “The students don’t always eat what they take,” said Dianne Gravatt, Rutgers University’s Director of Environmental Services and Grounds. “They pay a certain amount and take what they want.”

Thinking back on my college years, I remember experiencing that freedom and I’m sure I wasted my share of food back at Wesleyan’s “MoCon” Dining Hall. When you couldn’t decide between the entree, pizza, grilled cheese and pasta bar, you took them all and left what you didn’t like. Given the abundance of options, I’m not shocked by the amount of food wasted.

At least Rutgers, a school with about 15,000 students on meal plans, tries to get students to think about what they take. Neilson Dining Hall has a sign that reads, “Please do not waste food.” Yet that’s easier said than done, as the school sends 3,000 tons of food to a pig farmer each year. Here’s what Jim Verner, facilities supervisor for the Division of Dining Services, told me on the topic:

We try to encourage students not to take more than they eat. They can come back as much as they want. We have signs telling them that the food that gets wasted is expensive. We post how much they would save in their meal plans if they didn’t waste the food. Things like ‘the amount of food you waste would feed 50,000 people in Darfur.’ It’s the old guilt trip. When I was growing up, it was ‘think of all the starving people in China.’ But what are you gonna do? There’s just waste. The good news is that it goes to a farmer and comes back as next week’s pork chops.

What’s more, the amount of food waste at Rutgers is increasing. “It used to be around 2,500 tons per year. Now it’s 3,000 and over. The board plans are up, from 13,000 to 15,000 [students] over the last 10 years, but at the same time take out has really grown. I can’t explain that.”

What’s more, obesity worries have toppled the ‘clean your plate’ ethos Verner referenced. As a result, today’s kids learn early on that there’s no need to finish what you take. Transporting that attitude to colleges’ giant, all-you-can-eat dining halls causes the exorbitant waste we’re now seeing. 

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