As students return from break and begin to use the dining hall on a full time basis, a new campaign is being launched to educate students on the amount of food that gets wasted every day.
On average, a student wastes about five ounces of food every day and an average of 1,000 students visit the dining hall to eat each day, if each of them were to waste five ounces that would be 5,000 ounces, or about 312 pounds, of wasted food every day.
The campaign encourages students to eat as much as they want, but to be sure that they eat what they take.
“We think we can make a change by educating people,” said Steve Sweeney, Resource Recovery Supervisor for USM’s Department of Facilities Management.
On average, 3,000 pounds of food is wasted in the dining halls every week, and close to 600 tons of waste a year. Most of this wasted food goes to a Gorham farmer who picks up the scraps twice a week to feed to his pigs.
The 3,000 pounds of wasted food is coming only from the Brooks Dining Center in Gorham because it is the only place where food waste is collected separately from other waste, though, currently between 300 and 400 pounds of food waste is collected from the Portland campus and Lewiston generates far less food waste because there is far fewer people having meals there, according to Tyler Kidder, Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs.
“Food waste has always been an issue at USM although we are lucky to have been diverting our waste from Brooks Dining in Gorham to farmers for animal feed for over 20 years,” Kidder said,
What about set portions? If a student were to enter the dining hall and just receive the proper amount of food so none of it would be wasted, that would cut down on waste, but as Kidder pointed out, that wouldn’t work in an all-you-can-eat, buffet style, dining hall.
“Over time, more of the stations in Brooks have been staffed meaning that portions are more carefully controlled in some areas. The idea isn’t to encourage students to eat more or less, but just to choose the right amount to put on their plate,” Kidder said.
Kidder went on to say that idea behind the campaign is to educate the consumer and allow them to be apart of the solution.
The campaign is beginning just a little over a month after Representative Chellie Pingree introduced a bill to Congress aimed at reducing the amount of food that is wasted every year in the United States.
If the bill is passed it would create an office of food recovery within the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose mission would be to support federal programs that reduce incidents of food waste.
“Forty percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted,” Pingree said in a statement released on her website. “The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table.”
If passed the bill would also fund grants for food waste-saving efforts at schools.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded USM with a Regional Food Recovery Achievement Certificate for their efforts in cutting the amount of food wasted in both preparation and thrown away.
But USM has been doing more than that in their part to help protect the environment. In 2011, USM recycled at a rate of 34 percent, which was the national average for that year, and it cost $58,000 to eliminate waste.
In 2012, USM started the Tiny Trash Initiative, getting rid of standard trash cans and replacing them with a much smaller trash can made for wrappers, napkins and food scraps, mostly everything else was to be recycled. That year recycling rose to 46 percent and the cost of eliminating waste dropped to $35,000.
Then in 2013, the Tiny Trash Initiative won the Grand Eco-Excellence Award and recycling rose again at USM to 51 percent and costs continue to fall, costing $24,000 to eliminate the waste. USM saw the same trend again in 2014, recycling rose to 61 percent and costs went down again to $16,000.
According to Sweeney, changes were made in small ways, such as switching from paper towels to hand dryers to save money. USM also started separating liquids, allowing students to pour out their unused liquids instead of mixing it in with the other waste.
USM now reduces its waste by 20 tons, pouring that liquid waste down the drain.
Coffee is big at USM, selling roughly 2,350 cups every week and four tons of coffee grounds each year, instead of throwing those coffee grounds in with the waste it has been repurposed for compost.
USM has also started selling fryer oil for 75 cents per gallon and it collects and sells ink and toner cartridges, bringing in $600 a year.
“We are taking what was once an expense and turning it into income,” said Sweeney.
In an ideal world, there would be no food waste, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. According to Kidder, USM is fortunate that it can divert food to animal feed and compost but even that isn’t a perfect solution due to safety and liability concerns.
“My dream is that in the future USM and other institutions like it are able to send uneaten good quality food to those who need it without any barriers. Some of the people that need it may be right on our campus,” Kidder said. “Anything that could be donated to people or composted would be collected in every building on campus and nothing would go to waste.”
Because of the mass volume of students that eat in the Brooks Center, that’s where most of the effort to limit food waste is happening and Kidder is hopeful that they will be able to cut back on food waste by 20 percent by the end of this semester.