Waste Weigh Debrief

On Friday, I oversaw a waste weigh at Bucknell University. I updated Friday’s post with the results, but I want to provide more context. Here goes…

The logistics: students scraped their plate remains into a clear container atop a large scale. This waste weigh setup was just in front of the plate return belt, making participation easy. Student volunteers (and yours truly) were on hand to ensure that all went according to plan. For instance, no to drinks, but yes to soups.

The totals: We accepted plate waste from 11:30 to 1:30, yielding a total of 93 pounds. During that time, 1017 diners swiped through. That means the average plate waste was 1.5 ounces per student.

The analysis: That’s not terrible! Especially given that it’s an all-you-can-eat setup. Who knows, maybe my campus talk and class lectures had an impact. More likely–lunch is pretty rushed and students grab something quick and then rush off to class. Because of student lingering and the perception of that it’s a bigger meal, dinners are likely more wasteful. And, bear in mind that the 93 pounds was just plate waste. It didn’t include the prep waste from the kitchen or the unserved food left on the buffet. Plus, it was just one source of campus food waste on a campus where 25 percent waste is compostable.

The response: Only a handful of students balked at participating. And the majority seemed to make the connection between their (and fellow students’) behavior and the mass of food waste. We tried not to comment on students’ behaviors, but one guy commented–mostly jokingly–“I feel so judged!” A young woman found the exercise “so gross,” but I didn’t get to clarify whether she meant the tub of food waste or her peers’ squandering.

The prognosis: Somewhat surprisingly, the whole thing was quite fun. Students and staff were all really good sports–perhaps won over by the cool stickers–and we established a solid baseline measure against which to compare the next waste weigh, which will happen in the next month. Progress!

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