There is a very big carrot hanging in our Dining Commons to remind us of our commitment to sustainability. A carrot on a plate is more than just a serving of vegetables; it is a result of all the resources that went into bringing it where it is: planting, growing, harvesting, shipping, storing, preparing, cooking, and serving.
We are making an effort to reduce the amount of resources we waste from the beginning to the end of our food production. We have control over some aspects of food waste – volume of production, following proper procedures for cooling and reheating food so we can safely reuse it, and putting out proper amounts to meet business volume are a few of the things we do every day to reduce waste. Once food is served, we no longer have control over what happens. That is where plate waste comes in.
The last time we audited our waste from the dish room we estimated that on average, 25% of the food taken by dining Commons guests was returned to the dish room for disposal. It is a daunting amount when you consider that we are serving 5,000 or more meals a day. Clearly there is a great deal of room for improvement.
We started small. October 16 was WasteLess day at Sodexo accounts worldwide. We focused our efforts this year on plate waste. Members of our Student Board of Advisors asked students and guests coming through the door to pledge to clean their plate. They wrote their name on a post-it note and put it on the board by the register. We had 193 clean plate pledges at dinner that evening.
“193 plates – that’s not much,” I can hear you thinking. Well, when you look at the numbers, it adds up fast. At an average of 4 ounces of waste per plate, we saved almost 50 pounds of food from being wasted with those 193 plates. Expand that to our usual dinner business of 1,800 guests, and you are talking about 450 full plates of food wasted each meal.
Over the last few weeks of the semester we are going to create a display in the Dining Commons, a physical representation of the amount of food thrown out each day from the dish room. We are hoping it will give folks a chance to see the issue of waste in a new light, as well as the opportunity to learn about food waste and what they can do to help reduce it here at Keene State College.
We are also trying to approach the problem from the other end – where our waste ends up. Earlier this year, the sustainability officer and recycling coordinator for Keene State (Mary Jensen and Heather Greenwood) approached our General Manager Josef Quirnale to ask if we would be interested in exploring composting our food waste. The answer of course was “yes.” Our first priority is to provide satisfied customers with safe food in a welcoming environment, but we embrace the opportunity to do so in a way that is good for the environment and the community.
To transition to a system where we can compost our food waste touches nearly every aspect of our business, as we discovered when we began to meet this summer to work out the details. Is it worth the effort? Our current estimate, backed up by a short sample this summer, is that 80% of our waste stream can be composted rather than sent to the incinerator. This saves in several ways – we are recovering a resource (and saving money) in the composted material. We are reducing our carbon footprint by the amount of the emissions from the incinerator, and we will be conserving by reducing our use of garbage bags. We are also contributing to the campus effort to reach a goal of zero waste, and placing Keene State and our dining program at the leading edge of sustainability efforts.
When you come into the DC and see our carrot hanging, proud and orange above the stairwell, remember what it represents: a commitment to sustainability. It is a commitment we all share, because sooner or later our community’s use of resources will affect each of us, so we need to make wise decisions. You can make one each day in the Dining Commons by throwing out less food – to help your community, your environment and the planet. Thank you.