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Dining halls aim to reduce food waste

Mel Flanagan | Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If you’re reading this while eating a meal at North or South Dining Hall, stop for a moment and check your plate.

How many ounces of food are on it? And how many ounces will still be on it when you place your tray on one of the tray returns?

Waste Free Wednesdays, a semi-annual campaign to decrease food waste sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, Food Services and greeND, was started in the hopes that the answer to the latter question will shrink each time a student leaves the dining hall.

“Our overall goal is to reduce waste,” campaign co-chair Anna Gorman said. “Basically we want to get it as small as possible. Ideally it would be zero but that’s obviously not plausible.”

For one month each semester, volunteers stand at the dining hall tray returns each Wednesday between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. If a student walks up with no leftover food on his or her tray, the individual is given a raffle ticket.

Each campaign, one winner from the pool of raffle tickets is selected to win $100 in flex points.

“There are certain things we don’t count as waste, such as banana peels or chicken bones,” Gorman said. “But others, like even egg whites, do count as waste.”

“Waste weigh-ins,” to ascertain the average amount of food a student wastes, occur once during the week before the campaign begins as well as after it ends, Gorman said, in order to judge the effectiveness of the project.

“I think people do make an extra concentrated effort [during the campaign],” she said. “It’s not necessarily as lasting as I think we’re aiming for just in terms of how they bring it into when they’re not eating at the dining hall or things like that … But it definitely has a little bit of a following that knows what it is and is glad to reduce waste.”

Waste Free Wednesdays began in the fall of 2010 after research showed the large amounts of food being thrown away by students in the dining halls, Gorman said.

In the fall of 2011, Food Services took the campaign one step further when it shrunk the size of the dining hall trays.

“When the trays were replaced, that was also part of the campaign to stop waste,” Gorman said. “Before the trays [were shrunk], 4.64 ounces per person was the average waste from both dining halls. After, it went to 4.22 ounces.”

Gorman said Notre Dame ought to become more conscious of the amount of food it wastes as a Catholic university. “I think it’s about one in six Americans struggle with hunger, and we as a University waste a total of about 1.2 tons of food each day,” she said. “It’s just something that hit home for me, and I think it’s more relevant to people than they realize.”

For students to participate in the effort to decrease Notre Dame’s food waste, they simply need to think for a second before they place an item on their dining hall trays, Gorman said.

“It’s mainly just being conscious of what you’re picking up,” she said. “It’s all about making a conscious effort to reduce waste.”