Food waste has maintained visibility as an issue across the U.S., with over 35 million tons generated per year, and up to 40 percent of food being discarded. Indirectly, food waste also results in the wasting of resources used to generate and transport food, not to mention unnecessary costs to families who buy food that will never be eaten. It indicates a lack of efficiency in a country where almost one in nine households is still food insecure.
Colleges are a notable contributor to the accumulation of food waste, with RecyclingWorks, a program that provides recycling assistance, estimating that the average student living on-campus produces 142 pounds of food waste per year while those living off-campus produce an average of 38 pounds per year.
At the Fresh Food Café (FFC) and Nolan’s on 33rd, the University’s “all-you-care-to-eat” locations, all food waste is composted. The FFC produces the lion’s share of this waste due to the sheer number of meals it serves on a regular basis: around 21,000 per week. An average of 60 to 70 percent of composted material from all Homewood dining locations typically comes from the FFC. Hopkins Dining keeps track of food waste by tallying the amounts of material composted, explained Ian Magowan, senior manager of Dining Programs.
“Our vendor, Waste Neutral, who collects and processes our compostable materials keeps a record of weights per each dining location,” Magowan wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The information is reviewed monthly and compared from year to year, in order to identify areas for improvement, which might include action from either students or employees and which the Dining program promotes through marketing and programming. In addition, Magowan explained that there are efforts to evaluate the impact of composting as compared to other types of disposal.
“We have been able to compare changes in volume for other waste streams (recycling, cardboard, incinerated waste) to determine effect to reducing general waste through promoting composting,” he wrote.
Eforts have been made to reduce food waste during preparation.
“Bon Appetit maintains a batch cooking method in the dining halls to minimize waste...by cooking in smaller batches,” Magowan wrote.
Vegetable scraps, trimmings and bones from whole proteins are used to make stocks for soups served in the dining halls.
Hopkins’ participation in the Real Food Challenge has had a more uncertain impact. In 2013, the University became the 18th college to commit to the Real Food Challenge, whose goal is to have 20 percent of universities’ food come from “local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources,” or “Real Food.” Hopkins is aiming for 35 percent Real Food in dining halls by 2020, exceeding the challenge’s 20 percent goal.
Magowan explained that participating in the Real Food Challenge, also known as the RFC, so far has not had a significant impact on food waste.
“We do not believe there is any direct correlation between the RFC and food waste reduction,” he wrote.
However, participation has had positive impacts elsewhere. Buying from local vendors has decreased the amount of shipping waste, such as cardboard and packing materials, associated with buying food from large national distributors. The impact of Sterling Brunches has been more negative. Dining typically sees an increase in the amount of waste generated during Sterling Brunches, mostly as a result of food being left on plates. In the kitchen there is not as much of a change, aside from the increase in volume of food produced for the event.
There have been student efforts to raise awareness about food waste on campus. Real Food Hopkins is a student group focusing on food justice and sustainability, and the organization has hosted events including Weigh Your Waste, during which the group weighs discarded food and drink in dining halls to give students a concrete sense of their impact. Real Food Hopkins works together with faculty and staff, including individuals from Dining and local farmers, and hopes that collaborations will bring different perspectives surrounding food waste on campus.