Every year, Western Dining Services hosts the Weigh the Waste event to monitor the amount of unwanted food thrown away by students. In one day, Western Dining Services collected 256 pounds of consumer food waste from Viking Commons.
In the last year, Western dining halls donated over 2,200 pounds of food to local organizations, such as the Bellingham Food Bank and Lighthouse Mission. Any foods that are not safe to eat are composted.
According to Food Recovery Network, 22 million pounds of uneaten food is tossed out on college campuses each year.
Dining Services Executive Chef Patrick Durgan explained in an email there are many ways to control and monitor food waste. Production systems monitoring the kitchen operations inform the dining hall exactly how much they need to make based on customer counts and preferences, Durgan said.
“Anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of our total landfill waste stream is coffee cups…”
Junior Gwen Larned, Zero Waste coordinator for the Sustainability Office, said dining halls host these events where dining halls put out compost bins for food scraps and paper napkins in order to help measure and report on sustainability initiatives.
“Anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of our total landfill waste stream is coffee cups, which are also compostable on campus,” Larned said. “Dining Services actually had a huge hand in last year’s compostable lids on campus.”
Larned’s data from Weigh the Waste showed the average student generates 1.8 ounces of waste per meal. Larned said if all 15,000 students at Western had a meal together, they would produce 1,687 pounds of food — enough to feed one person for an entire year.
When Larned lived on campus, she ate three meals a day at the dining halls.
“I think part of the problem is that we’re new students,” Larned said. “Especially if you’re on a low budget and the only time you’re eating is when you’re in the dining hall, you’re going to pile as much food as you can onto your plate. Maybe it’s not the amount you can actually eat.”
Larned believes having students go back for more food instead of carrying large portions on trays has made a big difference in waste as well.
This is also the reason why the dining halls do portion servings, so students avoid the “eyes are bigger than the stomach” situation, Durgan said.