Where Do Our Leftovers Go?

Tara Marin & Ally Hutzler
Staff Writer and Assistant Editor

The weight of food leftovers is responsible for the largest component of the municipal waste stream in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Since this kind of waste has both short and long-term environmental and economic consequences, measures have been taken on campus to reduce the amount of food that thrown away everyday.

At the end of a typical day last year in Locke’s Loft, the main campus dining hall, the amount of food that students returned to the dish room in waste averaged at about 300 pounds. The goal is to reduce this amount of waste.

Brian Conway, the manager of Gourmet Dining services on campus, said that having leftover food which has not been taken by students is not common, as all the dining facilities strive to have zero waste.

“Kelly Commons and Cafe 1853 are all cooked to order locations, so there are no waste issues in those venues,” Conway said. “If and when we do produce food waste from Locke’s Loft, it is disposed of in the trash.”

As for Locke’s, the kitchen staff is trained to “batch cook,” meaning they only cook certain amounts of food for every meal period. When there is leftover food, it is not donated – but for a reason.

The school has been approached by organizations like City Harvest, a nonprofit that specializes in food rescue and distribution, and Food Recovery Network, which unites students at colleges across the United States to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food.

While the college would like to partner with these organizations, they must also comply with strict NYC Board of Health rules as well as Gourmet Dining’s minimum standards, both which limit the items that can be donated as well as the amount.

However, clubs on campus are still striving to get on board with food waste prevention and distribution. Atiya Raja, a member of Campus Ministry and Social Action, said that they are moving forward this cause and working on getting Gourmet Dining and City Harvest together.

“At the moment, CMSA is not actively involved in any food waste projects,” Raja said. “However, they do run several drives for food and clothing. I think CMSA would love to get involved with City Harvest, considering one of our branches is Catholic Relief Services, which has a group of ambassadors working on food security.”

Conway also said that there would be many advantages to working with City Harvest if they were to work past the difficult laws. City Harvest would supply the college with the designated pans and they would pick up the food, and the only thing that the kitchen staff would have to do would be to properly store the food in pick up containers.

What remains a major problem is the food that students waste each day, and the majority of this battle is getting students to reduce the amount of food they put on their plate.

In efforts to get the message out, Gourmet Dining ran the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign last year.

“We advertised throughout the campus and made it known to the student body how much food they were wasting on a daily basis,” Conway said. “Our goal is to have students take only what they want to eat, and in turn, eliminate waste for the benefit of the community and society as a whole.”

MC is also looking into the idea of acquiring a biodigester, which is a unit for food waste disposal that would take food that students bring to the dish room and convert it into grey water that can be safely disposed of down a drain. The options and costs are being discussed between Gourmet Dining and MC.

Casey Barrett, a senior on the Campus Sustainability Committee, agrees with the idea that biodigesting wasted food would be effective. The committee has looked at the facts and figures, and it seems that a biodigester unit may be coming to campus soon.

“I’m not sure of the capacity of the unit, but I know the digester can handle a lot of waste, which prevents that waste from going to a landfill,” Barrett said. “Biodigestion can even be more practical than composting in the city because compost can be a lengthy process and requires space, something NYC schools lack.”

In the meantime, students can waste less food by limiting how much they put on their plates.