PSU students tackle meal squandering
PLYMOUTH — Plymouth State University freshman Emily Auby didn’t wake up Wednesday morning thinking about how much food is wasted by students eating at the school’s Prospect Dining Hall, but by the end of her lunch, she was made fully aware of the problem.
Wednesday was another “Weigh the Waste Day” at Plymouth State, an ongoing campaign that collects all meal waste left on student plates and is then weighed by student volunteers.
“We the divide the total weight by the number of students to see how much food is wasted per person,” said Sam Durfee, a PSU senior and sustainability coordinator for student dining services. “We have done this three times and we continually hope to lower our waste generation.”
The effort began at breakfast and continued through the end of dinner at the dining hall, according to Diahnn Thompkins, a nutrition manager for Sodexo, which operates the school’s student dining services.
“After we collect the totals, we will then publicize how much food is wasted through a variety of methods, such as e-mail, social media, posters and the student newspaper,” Thompkins said.
Many students who eat at the dining hall have a prepaid meal plan, but some pay for each meal they consume and, when food is wasted, it adds to the overall cost of dining at the facility, she said.
“Our goal is to get students to only take what they will eat,” Thompkins said. “We have done this before and the campaign is slowly working. From last spring, we have cut waste about a little less than an ounce per person. That may not seem like a lot, but it does add up for as many people who eat here over the long run.”
She said vegetable food scraps from the dining hall kitchen are recycled by sending them to the D Acres Farm for consumption by pigs, but other substances, such as leftover meat and other uneaten served foods, are prohibited by law from being donated and are sent to the cafeteria disposal.
Amanda Kelly, a PSU junior studying environmental science, volunteered to monitor and direct students to dump their waste into a number of plastic buckets, which were weighed by the students when full.
By 12:15 p.m., some 47.6 pounds of waste had been collected from 583 people eating breakfast and lunch.
Broken out for a full year, that amounts to 97,000 pounds of food waste, or 48.5 tons annually being thrown out at PSU alone.
“It really makes you mindful of how much food is thrown away,” Kelly said.
Thompkins said national statistics show Americans throw away 40 million tons of food every year — a number that could feed 1 billion people worldwide.
“Watching this collection today certainly makes me more conscious of what I throw away on my plate,” she said. “As nutrition manager here, I’m supposed to lead by example. This is very informative.”
Auby said she sees students every day who take more than they can eat and end up throwing a portion of it away.
“Some of them think they are entitled to do that because they are paying for the food,” Auby said.
After watching the “Weigh the Waste” collection effort Wednesday, Auby said she believes the increased attention about food waste may eventually help solve the problem.
“It’s good because it brings awareness and opens people’s eyes,” she said.