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Waste-Free Wednesdays’ improves steadily

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Monday, December 5, 2011

For a second year in a row, Waste-Free Wednesdays have challenged students to eat and drink consciously in the dining hall during the month of November.

The challenge, organized and directed by senior Elizabeth Davis, reduced monthly waste by more than half last year, and similar success was found this year.

Davis said the project met its primary goals.

“We had a two-fold goal: to decrease the amount of liquid and food waste, of course, but also to increase awareness of how much we were wasting,” Davis said.

The challenge was created through a partnership through the Office of Sustainability, Food Services and the GreeND Club. Students with no leftover food or drink on their trays were given raffle tickets, which could be entered into a drawing for 100 free Flex Points.

“The partnership between the three groups allowed there to be a student arm collaborating with the administrative aspect as well,” she said.

Analysis of the typical student eating patterns showed that at the beginning of the year, the average patron of South Dining Hall wasted 6.01 ounces of food per meal. The November data revealed that this number has fallen to 5.11 ounces — a 15 percent decrease.

North Dining Hall increased its waste slightly during the challenge, going from 3.27 ounces to 3.34 ounces wasted.

Combined, the campus decreased from 4.26 to 4.23 ounces wasted per person per meal.

“We did pretty well, since the recorded total number of people who didn’t waste in both dining halls was 949,” Davis said. “The exciting thing is, if we maintain this level of reduction, we’ll be saving 67,500 pounds of food per year in South Dining Hall.”

Davis said some of the reduction could be attributed to the smaller trays now used in South Dining Hall, but that the project’s work to increase awareness was also a definite success.

“It’s so easy to just take more food than you need when you’re going through the dining hall,” Davis said. “If people kept the project’s idea in the back of their minds, we could save an unbelievable amount of food.”

Sophomore Tim Bontrager was named winner of the raffle Wednesday and was awarded the 100 Flex Points.

Davis said one common misconception about dining hall waste blames Food Services for the waste problems, claiming the organization makes too much food and disposes of it after each meal. However, Davis said, leftover cooked food is donated to two local homeless shelters and not added to the wasted food total.

While the University is very conscious of food disposal, little can be done with the leftovers that students leave on their trays, and by addressing this issue, the Waste-Free project solves a different aspect of the dining hall sustainability problem, she said.

“We really wanted to create a positive image for the whole thing, instead of making people feel reprimanded for wasting,” Davis said. “If we can continue this trend, we can make a big difference.”