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Waste-Free Wednesdays promote sustainability

Nicole Toczauer | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In September, Notre Dame students wasted an average of 4.63 ounces of food after each meal in the dining hall, said William Yarbrough, associate director in the Food Services Administration.

“If 4,000 students eat a meal, that’s 1,157 pounds of food and beverage wasted for that meal,” Yarbrough said.

In an effort to combat food and liquid waste at the University, GreeND, Food Services and the Office of Sustainability partnered together this year to sponsor Waste-Free Wednesdays, a weekly event in the month of November that asks students to think about the food they throw out.

Senior Elizabeth Davis, chair of the sustainability project, said Waste-Free Wednesdays will take place in the dining halls from 6 to 7 p.m. every week in November.

“The goal of Waste-Free Wednesdays is twofold,” Davis said. “One: to reduce the amount of fluid and food waste. Two: To raise awareness and have people feel empowered for not wasting.”

The project began last year when Davis was on the Student Energy Advisory Board. She worked with ND Food Services, the eND Hunger Campaign, student government, GreeND, the Holy Cross Food Drive and the Office of Sustainability to create the project.

“By the end, the results showed that we cut food waste in half and raised enough money to provide 6,300 meals in the South Bend community,” Davis said. “It really emphasized the season of giving.”

Yarbrough said this year GreeND, Food Services and the Office of Sustainability have been key supporters of the project.

“Food Services provides necessary funding for marketing materials, the Office of Sustainability provides T-shirts and support through a student intern — Elizabeth Davis — on their staff and GreeND provides volunteers to work with diners and measure the food and beverage,” he said.

Davis said two volunteers stationed at the dish line will give students raffle tickets if they do not have food or liquid waste on their trays. These students, members of the “Clean Plate Club,” can then enter the tickets into a box at the front of the dining hall for the chance to win 100 flex points, courtesy of Food Services.

Weigh-ins will measure the decrease in waste over the course of Waste-Free Wednesdays, Davis said.

Yarbrough said food waste usually started off high in the fall and decreased as more education on waste was provided to students.

“This year it started lower than last year at 4.63 ounces per diner, and I think this can be attributed to the work done by our volunteer students last year,” he said. “We started last year at 6.27 ounces per diner and by the end of the year we were down to 3.11 ounces.”

Davis said the team working on Waste-Free Wednesdays planned to hold a Waste-Free Week in spring as well. She said she hoped the program would expand.

“Future events could include a competition between different schools, or even just North and South to see who could waste less,” she said. “I think South would have to work hard because they’ve tended to waste more in the past.”

Davis said she encouraged students to volunteer or suggest new ideas.

“Volunteers get a shirt that says ‘wasted’ on the front. It’s a hilarious reward for only an hour’s volunteer work,” she said. “On the back it says ‘Waste-Free Wednesdays.'”

Waste-Free Wednesdays worked in a positive way to change habits, she said.

“You don’t want to guilt trip people,” Davis said. “You want to empower them not to waste. Whether you waste or not, you can work not to the next time.”

Yarbrough said Waste-Free Wednesdays answered a social responsibility.

“There are too many people in the U.S. and other parts of the world that are hungry. We support the Hope Rescue Mission and the Center for the Homeless with leftover food from the meals we serve,” he said. “However, the foods that diners return on their trays is lost.”