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Friday, April 19
The Indiana Daily Student

Rises in “all-you-care-to-eat" food waste puts strains on IU Dining workers

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The introduction of IU Dining’s new “all-you-care-to-eat” dining system this year is raising concerns surrounding food waste on campus. The new meal plan allows students to use multiple meal swipes each day and receive unrestricted servings.  

Participants at Weight the Waste events collected all waste produced in McNutt and Forest Dining Halls for a 4-hour period, Field said in an email. IU Dining collected about 490 pounds of food waste at each of two of the five all-you-care-to-eat locations, amounting to approximately 4 oz of food waste per student per visit. IU Dining approximates students throw away about 2000 pounds of food across all dining halls each day. 

Related: [How to find food on campus for those with allergies and dietary restrictions]

Kenneth Field, director of residential dining, said in an email, while it is difficult to directly compare food waste to previous years, food waste has slightly increased during the last year as a result of the meal plan switch. IU Dining has hosted “Weigh the Waste” events to raise awareness about food waste issues on campus and how they strain dining management and staff. 

The new dining system was put in place with an aim to address food insecurity on campus, according to IU Dining.  The dining system is offered at the Collings Living-Learning Center, Goodbody Hall, McNutt Quad, Wright Quad and Forest Quad. However, addressing the problem has left IU Dining with new food waste issues.  

“Food gets left on tables, on the floor, and the amount that we scoop out in the dish room that goes straight into the trash is pretty astounding,” said Sophia Feightner, IU sophomore and IU Dining worker. “Even at the end of the night, if certain things aren’t able to be preserved till the next day, or we don’t think they’ll be eaten, we’ll throw them out.” 

Feightner has worked at the Forest Dining Hall since August, where she said food waste is a major issue. 

According to the Food Recovery Network, a total of 22 million pounds of uneaten food is thrown out at college campuses across the country each year. Feightner said she often sees students throw out uneaten pastry desserts and side food items at the end of their meal. She said she believes IU Dining’s all-you-care-to-eat model is a major contributing factor to food waste at IU because students will take more than what they can eat. 

Related: [Confused by IU Dining’s new meal plans? We have answers.]

In addition to wanting to see IU start composting stations at dining halls, Feightner said students can work to decrease their waste on an individual level by being conscious of their food selections and cleaning up after themselves in the dining hall. 

Field said reducing waste in the dining halls would free up limited labor and increase overall staff morale. He said the current level of food waste is putting a strain on IU dining staff by causing management to schedule more staff to cook and clean than normally necessary. Field also said the cost of producing extra food makes it harder for dining management to order food and can cause longer lines while additional food is made. 

IU freshman Gaby Rondel said the self-serve formats for some dining halls can contribute to the waste problem. For instance, Rondel said, at McNutt Dining Hall, the food is not self-serving, and students cannot control the amount of food they get on their plates. This means students often end up throwing away more food if they cannot finish their portions. Rondel agrees with the all-you-care-to-eat meal plan can encourage students to waste more food. 

“People are wasteful because they aren’t actually paying for it. They don’t mind taking too much and throwing it away,” Rondel said. “If they get a whole meal and they don’t like it, they can just throw the rest out.”  

IU freshman Annabel Prokopy said one reason she believes food waste occurs so frequently at university dining halls is privilege. While some students care about the issue of food waste, she said not enough students do.  

“There are so many people even in Indiana who are incredibly food insecure. They’re living in deep poverty, and they don’t have the ability to waste food,” Prokopy said. “But what we see in universities and other places where people are more privileged, they have the ability to produce more than they can consume just out of convenience.”  

Prokopy, who founded Indiana grassroots climate education campaign Confront the Climate Crisis and is a member of Students for a New Green World, said one reason students and faculty should care about food waste is its contribution to climate change and global warming. According to nonprofit climate solution organization Project Drawdown, food waste across the globe accounts for about eight percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.  

“Food waste is definitely a part of what IU should be focusing on if they want to become more sustainable, especially as they’re hopefully on track to produce a climate action plan here in the next year,” Prokopy said.  

Prokopy also pointed to a waste management system at Purdue as an example of how IU could combat food waste. Food waste is picked up from the dining halls and transported to a bio-digester, which converts the food waste to clean energy that powers West Lafayette’s wastewater treatment plant.  

Related: [IU is researching ways to make the university carbon neutral, curb greenhouse gas emissions]

Currently, IU partners with outside trash companies to pick up trash. According to Field, IU used to work with an outside composting company but the amount of compost generated on campus was too much for the company to handle. 

“Composting requires a large amount of land, heavy equipment to work the piles and labor to manage the business,” Field said in an email.  

Field said IU Dining currently maintains several sustainable waste management systems, including purchasing compostable products for carryout, recycling cardboard packaging and utilizing bulk dispensers to reduce the number of bottles and bags. Field said IU Dining also cooks in small batches to keep food fresh and eliminate over-production that can lead to further waste.

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