5 Ways To Reduce Your Dining Hall Waste

In the past year, Northwestern Dining has composted over 245.25 tons of waste. This waste is down over 32 tons from 2014, but is a bittersweet number.

Though composting is more beneficial than food waste ending up in landfills, having less total food waste is an even more preferable solution. Campus Kitchens at Northwestern University uses leftover dining hall food to assemble meals for those in need, a solution to decreasing food waste that has more impact than composting. Beyond that, cutting down on after meal waste can save water and energy in the long run by giving an accurate picture of the most efficient servings of food to produce.  

That’s why Northwestern Dining is relaunching Weigh the Waste- a program to help students understand how much they are throwing away during a standard lunch period. Before it’s time to take the numbers, we wanted to give you a few tips on how to reduce your waste in the dining hall.

  1. Take a taste, and come back later for more!     

If there’s a dish in the dining hall that you’re not sure you’ll like, take a small portion size to give it a taste. If it’s just what you wanted- you can always head back for a second serving! And if it’s not quite your favorite, you have less waste to spare.

  1. Ask for smaller portion sizes.

Northwestern Chefs are happy to accommodate your needs. If you want only half a sandwich, or smaller portions on a pre-made plate, let them know! Or even in self-serve situations, don’t be afraid to only take half of a bagel, or a thinner slice of pie. It’s better that you don’t end up wasting the extra food you didn’t want in the first place.

  1. BYOM! (Bring your own mug!)

Our disposable coffee cups in the dining halls are compostable, but no need to take one if you don’t need it! You’re welcome to bring your own mug to fill up with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. You get to maintain your personal aesthetic and reduce waste at the same time!

4. Share with friends

If you see a tasty dessert but know you won’t be able to finish the whole thing, offer to share it with a friend. You’ll seem like a benevolent and selfless sweets-sharer, and save the treat from a wasteful end.  

  1. Check the menus ahead of time!

Northwestern Dining menus are online. Check to see if there’s a dining hall that has something you prefer, so that you’re less likely to waste food that isn’t your favorite.


By engaging in these practices you can help reduce post-meal waste and contribute to a more sustainable Northwestern. We’re doing our part too, by trying to remove all non compostable items from the dining hall. So don’t forget, if you do have some waste- send it back with your plate so Northwestern Dining can compost it!


Allison Yelvington

Northwestern Dining Sustainability Intern


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