When going to the cafeteria, it can be all too easy to throw leftover food on the conveyor belt and walk away without thinking about what’s going to waste. A science class on campus is changing that mentality by showing how much food gets wasted on a daily basis.
Over an approximately two week period, Prof. Todd Tracy’s BIO101 class conducted a food wastage study in the cafeteria. Campus dining director Ned Price and Tracy worked closely together to organize how students would measure food and drink waste.
They decided the students would weigh the bucket of waste after each shift and measure the number of ounces of liquid wasted in each cup. These numbers were totaled and divided by the number of patrons served. The results were then compared to results from previous studies.
The study showed that, overall, food and drink waste went down significantly. The data showed that drink waste at breakfast, lunch and dinner went down 41%, 50.51%, 15.89%, respectively from 2014, but food wastage went up 50% at breakfast.
“You see that breakfast went up a little bit, but we’re also serving more this semester than we were two years ago,” Price said. “It doesn’t surprise me that food waste went up.”Food waste decreased at lunch by 17.81% and decreased at dinner by 4.78%. The results also showed that students did not seem to be taking more cups, even though campus dining recently introduced smaller cups. These smaller cups could be playing a large role in such significant drop in liquid waste.
“I think this semester versus two years ago, that enrollment is down a little bit,” Price said. “I think that plays a little bit of a factor in those numbers as well. I think it also has to do with education over time that we don’t need to have four glasses sitting at the table. We have such a large selection of drinks that students are going to find something they like.”
Price feels as though the open communication between the campus dining team and the students also plays a large role in the reduction of food waste.
“The comment cards are a great indicator of what the students are thinking and how they feel about what we are doing,” Price said. “I have probably had more cards this year thanking us for putting out certain items than I have had in the last three years.”
Price also credits the campus dining surveys as great indicators that gauge how the students feel. They use the comment cards and surveys to understand what students like and do not like.
Price would love to continue to do studies like this in the future.
“What would be really cool for the next time we do this would be to be able to take the menu and be able to coordinate the menu to what is coming back [waste],” Price said. “I don’t want to serve stuff you guys [the students] don’t like to eat.”
As a campus body, Northwestern has done a great job of decreasing food waste. It is the goal of campus dining to feel like a part of the NW community and open communication has really helped that happen. Let your voice be heard so that together, students can continue to decrease food waste.