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Dining puts focus on reducing daily food waste

The screens displaying food-waste data are intended to encourage students to waste less food. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

On average, 408 pounds of food is wasted daily at the busiest on-campus dining facility, The Hub.

To raise awareness, USF Dining Services is displaying the amount of food wasted per day on digital screens next to the dish return at The Hub.

The data is collected by LeanPath, a food-waste prevention system that integrates real-time food-waste information disposed at each dining hall with the intention of inspiring students and staff to waste less food.

According to Jessica Cicalese, USF Dining’s marketing director, The Hub uses LeanPath’s pre-and post-consumer waste pilot program to display the amount of food wasted each day as soon as students drop off their plates at the dish return.

Pre-consumer waste is collected by trained associates that weigh the waste and classify the weight depending on the production status it was wasted in. Post-consumer waste is collected and weighed continually throughout the day as dishes are being washed.

This technology not only tracks the food waste produced that day but also the energy savings associated with the waste. According to LeanPath statistics, The Hub wasted around 2,773 pounds of food last month, which is the equivalent of wasting 138,652 gallons of water.

“The real cost of throwing out food is not just the wasted ingredients, but the cost of energy and water used to produce the food, along with storage, preparation labor, disposal and lost sales,” Cicalese wrote in an email to The Oracle. “Together, it's roughly five times the cost of the original purchase.”

Through its sustainability platform Green Thread, USF Dining is working to reduce the environmental impact caused by its operations on campus, according to its website.

According to Cicalese, food waste minimization is a cornerstone of Dining’s operations and The Green Thread platform.

In addition to the data collection and display screens, The USF Campus Food Waste Recovery Project will partner with Aramark, USF's food-service provider, to recover the food wasted in each dining hall to create new renewable energy sources by anaerobic digestion. According to the American Biogas Council, anaerobic digestion consists of a series of biological processes in which micro-organisms break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen.

Every semester, each student pays approximately $1 per credit hour toward the Green Energy Fund. This fund is managed by a council of members who work on projects that aim to reduce the campus' carbon footprint.

Whitney Fung, the principal investigator for the USF Campus Food Waste Recovery Project, initially presented this idea to the Green Energy Fund Council.

The initiative is currently supported by the fund and received a grant of $25,000 for its pilot project last month.

The pilot will last for a year, and the team plans to build eight new anaerobic biodigester sites on campus. Overall, the project will try recover food waste in large masses across campus to avoid it being disposed of in landfills or burned.

“As a food-service provider, we make decisions every day that have a significant impact on food waste minimization and have an incredible opportunity to make a positive impact through simple operational changes and awareness,” Cicalese said.