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How to reduce campus food waste

A single college student generates an average 142 pounds of food waste per year
University Business, October 2016
Student-run campus organizations are partnering with food service providers to get leftover food to those who need it. (Photo: Food Recovery Network/James Souder, UMD Recovery)
Student-run campus organizations are partnering with food service providers to get leftover food to those who need it. (Photo: Food Recovery Network/James Souder, UMD Recovery)

More than 22 million pounds of uneaten food is thrown away on college campuses each year, according to Food Recovery Network, a student-driven nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste and hunger at higher education institutions.

A single college student generates an average 142 pounds of food waste per year, according to Recycling Works, a Massachusetts recycling assistance program.

To help mitigate the issue on campuses and beyond, the federal Good Samaritan Act was amended a few years ago to limit food donor liability so certain uneaten items can now be given to those in need, rather than ending up landfills.

In addition to the Food Recovery Network, The Campus Kitchens Project, started in 2001 by the nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen, now has 54 chapters and recruits college students to retrieve uneaten food from cafeterias and deliver it to community organizations focused on eliminating food insecurity. The organization also uses food waste for composting or to feed farm animals.

Raising awareness among students and campus administrators is critical for change to happen, says Regina Northouse, executive director of the Food Recovery Network, which has chapters at 200 colleges across the U.S., and has in the past five years recovered 1.4 million pounds of food, or the equivalent of 1 million meals.

“Let’s not be embarrassed by our food waste,” Northouse says. “If we can all be honest about it, that means we have identified the problem, and now we can insert solutions to that.”

In addition to convincing students not to take more food than they will actually eat from the dining hall, institutions and food service companies can partner with organizations such as hers to track ordering to minimize excess, Northouse says.

Along with reducing an institution’s food expenses, such partnerships can lower trash-hauling expenses—since having less refuse costs less to move.

Connecting students to local charitable organizations also fosters goodwill in the community. Says Northouse: “Higher education should be the first place where food recovery is the norm, not the exception.” —R.B.

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