USF students food waste adds up

Nearly 200 students dining at Juniper-Poplar Hall on Friday got a taste of how much food they collectively waste on an average day – a total of 56 pounds.

The Office of Sustainability and USF Dining hosted the University’s first food waste audit in recognition of National Campus Sustainability Day. The audit took place between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., and pounds of food wasted during both breakfast and lunch were tallied.

Eleanor Ayres, a senior majoring in environmental science and an intern at the Office of Sustainability, stopped diners on their way out of the hall and asked their permission to weigh their waste. Though not all diners were enthusiastic, she said 187 people agreed.

Approximately 36 percent of the participants wasted one-eighth of a pound of food at any given meal, a quarter pound less than the national average for college students. One participant wasted almost 1.4 pounds at lunch. Juan Jimenez, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, agreed to have his waste weighed. He said he thought the audit was important because many people don’t realize how much food they waste.

“I just feel bad because there’s so many people that don’t get to eat,” he said. “Food waste is a problem. I myself sometimes waste a lot of food, but it’s something we need to fix.”

Student awareness was the main goal of the audit, Ayres said.

“I think that this event has opened a few eyes and made people more aware about how much food they’re throwing away,” she said. “I think this day was instrumental in showing people that it all adds up.”

Director of the Office of Sustainability Christian Wells said USF may expand the audit to all campus dining halls in the future. USF Dining Marketing Manager Jenna Burns said the expansion will depend on Friday’s turnout, but did not know how many people denied requests to weigh their waste.

Wells said the event was not advertised.

“We wanted it to be a complete surprise, because we didn’t want to skew the results,” he said.

Eventually, the data collected will be used to compare USF to the national average of how much food the typical student wastes, Wells said, as well as develop strategies for what to do with the leftovers.

“One of the suggestions has been post-consumer food composting,” he said. “USF Dining is interested in pursuing that on a smaller scale, on a pilot study, if that’s possible.”

Other initiatives to make the campus more environmentally friendly include tray-free dining, reusable takeout boxes, the elimination of Styrofoam products and reusable cups, Burns said.

Wells said USF Dining recently took away trays to save energy and water from washing them, as well as see if tray-free dining has an impact on food waste, after a study Wells read said it could lead to a 20 percent reduction in waste.