Clemson Dining Hall Food Waste Study

The Clemson University Composting Program currently composts the food waste produced from the two major dining halls: Harcombe and Schilletter. However, food waste is generated from many additional sources such as Clemson House, on-campus restaurants, residence halls, sporting venues, and other university sponsored events. Regrettably, there are not enough resources to compost the amount of food waste currently being generated from all of these sources. Therefore, reducing the food waste coming from these sources is essential to eliminating food waste being sent to landfills.

My main objective this semester was to conduct a Food Waste Reduction Study to determine reasons for student food waste in order to develop marketing strategies that would reduce student food waste on campus. The first step to achieving source reduction and prevention was to do a food waste assessment. It is important to measure and track the amount, type, and reason for the food waste generation to target where changes should be made. The initial measurement also serves as a control for measuring food waste diversion.

The initial measurements of the food waste were taken on Wednesday, October 17 and Friday, October 19 in Harcombe dining hall. To help eliminate variability of each plate, each measurement was done between 6:00-7:00 PM, choosing a plate at increments of three minutes. Plates were photographed and scraped into a bucket. At the start of each three-minute interval, the first plate place on the conveyor belt was pulled aside. A photograph was taking of each plate to look for trends in common types of foods wasted. Then the contents of the plate were emptied into a large bucket with volumetric markings. Using a hanging scale, the weight of the food waste was measured.

Table 1. Food Waste Measurements

Date Volume Weight
Wednesday, October 17    5 L   4.0 lb
Friday, October 19    6 L   5.1 lb
Wednesday, November 7    5 L   3.5 lb
Friday, November 9    3 L   1.9 lb

On November 1, 2012, at Harcombe’s “Eat Well, Live Well” event, students were reminded to be conscious of food they waste and a survey was administered to gain student perspective. To encourage students to participate in the survey, they placed their survey into a basket to enter a drawing for a $50 Visa gift card. Along with the surveys, composting stickers, clean plate club pins and stickers, sunglasses, pens made of 100% recycled materials, notepads, and other marketing items were distributed. Students were encouraged to put the stickers on items such as laptops or water bottles to remind themselves and other students of the importance of minimizing food waste on and off of campus.

The surveys were composed of three questions regarding student’s awareness of composting, importance of education, and reasons for wasting food. One hundred eight students completed the surveys; the answers were compiled and displayed in pie charts for easy analysis.

After the Food Waste Reduction Campaign had been in effect for several weeks, I once again measured the food waste in Harcombe to measure effectiveness of the educational impact on student behavior. The measurements were taken on Wednesday, November 7 and Friday, November 9 using the same procedure as described before. The volume and weight of the food waste are recorded in Table 1 as well.

Analyzing the results of the food waste measurements along with the student surveys, several strategies were developed to reduce food waste within the kitchen in addition to from plates of the consumer. A portion of waste is pre-consumer, that is, waste produced from food preparation that is not normally eaten such as the ends on loaves of bread. One way to reduce pre-consumer waste is to keep careful measurements of the food being used to prevent the over purchase of food. Training staff can have an impact on the reduction of pre-consumer waste by reducing improperly prepared food. Prep waste can also be reduced by practices such as improving knife skills. Instead of discarding leftover foods, many foods can be used for secondary uses. Baked leftover bread can be used as croutons, excess rice can become fried rice, and unused vegetables can be used to make soup. Proper storage is also essential in reducing pre-consumer waste.

Reducing pre-consumer waste is important for staff and faculty, but reducing plate waste must be a combined effort of both faculty and students. Plate waste is any food waste left uneaten by the consumer. According to the survey, students believe education of the facts on food waste would encourage students to waste less food. Therefore, informational signs or banners within dining halls and other locations or educational videos mandated for incoming freshman on food waste could prove beneficial. Another tactic to reduce post-consumer waste includes reducing portion sizes and asking students if they would like all sides with their entrees. Encouraging students to only take the food they can consume and waiting to get seconds are good strategies to minimize waste.

The efforts thus far at Clemson University have made positive steps towards reducing food waste.  If faculty and students implement the strategies discussed and remain mindful of the benefits achievable by reducing food waste, Clemson could achieve a goal of having zero food waste sent to landfills from campus.

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Categories: Education and Marketing, Pictures and Media, Project Work | Tags: | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Clemson Dining Hall Food Waste Study

  1. Alexandra Lavers

    Hi! I am writing a thesis on food waste and was wondering what specific type of scale you used to measure the food waste. Would you recommend it or never use it again? Thanks!!

    • Sorry for the late reply, some students only take the course one semester and I haven’t been keeping up with their past posts. The student used a hanging hand scale with a small bucket. Personally, I’d say it all depends on your specific situation in determining what kind of scale to use. For this project, the student needed a mobile model as she was measuring the waste as it was being discarded in the dinning hall. Hope this helps! Contact me directly if I can help you with anything else. Ryan Poole rpoole@clemson.edu

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