In Sargent Dining Hall on October 16th, five volunteers spent their lunch hour sorting through 350 students’ food waste. From 12 to 1 p.m., over 85 pounds of food scraps, nearly untouched food, leftover beverages, and paper products were collected. The average waste per student amounted 0.25 pounds, which by weight, is comparable to an uneaten Burger King Whopper on each dining hall patron’s plate.
Last year, Northwestern Dining established “Weigh the Waste” (dining hall waste audits) as a regular part of their programming. Calculating how much food waste is leftover after dining hall meals raises awareness on campus of what opportunity exists in regards to eliminating food waste. Additionally, further evaluation of what sorts of food diners have leftover after their meals and why it is leftover paves a pathway of progress for the future.
During this Weigh the Waste event, a survey of 26 students was taken in order to pinpoint the root of the problem of this unnecessary food waste in order to improve in the future! Although the survey did not provide a very large sample size, the trends of students responses definitely give insight into how we can be more waste-mindful in the future.
When asked why their food was leftover, most students stated that it was because they simply took too much. The next most popular answer was that students were in a hurry or that the food didn’t taste like they expected. Others further simply didn’t like the food.
Following up with why the food was leftover, students stated that the waste would have been prevented if the pre-portioned out plate of food was smaller, if there was an a la carte menu, if they known the entire menu before getting their food, if there were food samples available, if the food was higher quality (both in terms of the produce/food itself and in how it was cooked), and if there were shorter lines at their grill, so they wouldn’t take other food while they were waiting.
Once students had seen the vats of leftover food and greater understood their own contribution to the total food waste produced in the dining hall, they stated that in order to prevent this in the future they would take less food, take less food at a time, look at the online menu before coming to the dining hall, and ask to get served a smaller portion in the future.
Let’s go ‘Cats–I’m looking forward to making these steps in reducing our dining hall waste for our next Weigh the Waste event this quarter!