Contrary to popular belief, food waste is not only what remains on plates after a meal, food waste is also what never made it on to a plate in the first place. In fact, if we discard paper, food waste is the single largest material waste in the Unites States (2010 figures). According to The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) American’s waste 33 million tons of food each year[i]. To put it simply, American’s waste enough food to fill up The Rose Bowl every day in the span of one year[ii]. Ironically enough 40% of all food produced in America never makes it “to the plate” since today we discard more food than what we consume, and yet one in every six American’s starves[iii]. One of the greater catalysts of this issue are American Universities and Colleges Dinning Halls, which produce 3.6 million tons of food waste, contributing 2% of America’s annual food waste1.
Most Universities and colleges in America require students who live on campus to purchase a dinning plan, which allow students to dine at any on-campus food hall. Dinning plan’s, or meal plan’s, differ from University to University in pricing and policy. For example, at the Pennsylvania State University student’s can choose in between different “meal plans levels” which depending on the pricing, students will receive points that can be used to either purchase individual meals or snacks, or enter any dinning hall, which functions like an all you can eat buffet. Other Universities, such as Florida International University offer a standard rate plan, which students pay in order to get unlimited access to any dinning hall that function like 24 hours all you can eat buffet. Regardless of the dinning policy implemented by the Universities, however, most Universities and Colleges follow the all you can eat buffet dinning hall characteristics. Because Dinning Halls offer students all you can eat buffets, students tend to grab more food than what they will actually eat which creates a major problem, dinning halls prepare more food than what will actually be consumed by student’s[iv].
Even though a few of American Universities and Colleges and their suppliers, like Aramark and Sodexo, are beginning to take initiatives to decrease dinning hall food waste, through campaigns that display 1 day worth of food waste in the entrance of cafeterias for 30 minutes to create awareness, for instance, “the average college students is still generating 142 pounds of food waste yearly.”[v] Therefore one question is left to ask, what actions can American Universities and College Dinning Halls take to reduce food waste, and yet continue to provide students an array of food choices?
Do Tray’s Make a Difference?
Recently, both Sodexo and Aramark, suggested their clients to remove all trays from dinning halls as an attempt to reduce food waste. According to Sodexo an Aramark, by removing trays from dinning halls, Universities are forcing students to look around a dinning hall and grab only what they will it rather than compelling food plates on their tray iv. Sodexo and Aramark’s suggestions stimulated the University of Main at Farmington to conduct a study, in which they found that, in effect, by removing food trays from University’s dinning halls an institution could reduce food waste by anywhere between 25 to 30%[i].
Additionally, Sodexo also released statements that encouraged Universities to adopt tray-less dinning campus halls policies since it would also reduce water waste by avoiding it’s use in the process of cleaning it’s tray. In effect, Sodexo stated that if universities adopted tray-less policies they could potentially reduce 200 galloons of water for every 1,000 meals served. The University of Main at Farmington found evidence that does not only agree with the statements released by Sodexo, but also released estimates of how much money Universities could potentially save through water savings. According to the study conducted, The University of Main at Farmington found that the annual 288,288 galloons of water that could be saved through this policy would be equivalent to $57,000 worth on savings iv.
A couple of Universities across The United States, including The University of Maine at Farmington, have already begun to implemented tray-less campus dinning halls as a reaction to this finding. Harvard University, for instance, adopted tray-less policies as part of their Clean Plate Club. Through this club, Harvard orders specific foods that students prefer and boxes them as servings, in order to prevent students from accumulating plates of food iv.
How can we deal with the “food scraps”?
Perhaps one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue, with food waste in University’s dinning halls are the scraps that are left in the dinning halls buffet after closing. In fact, most of the food left cooked and un touched by students usually remains inside dinning halls kitchens and thrown away before even being displayed in the dinning halls buffets. These “scraps”, are in effect, what contribute to America’s second largest material waste – after paper – since almost half of all food waste (40%) is thrown out in such manner [ii]. Nevertheless, it is important to take into consideration the numerous policies that currently exist that force Universities to throw away food scraps in order to prevent any food intoxication. Depending on the health policies that a certain university is entitled to in retrospect to the State, a University may have to hold itself accountable to either continuously change foods that have been in displaced for a long period of time under buffet flames, three to three and a half hours per see, or “recycle their food” by reusing certain ingredients. For example, a food hall may use the remainders of the salad bar that were provided during lunch may be used to provide a veggie pizza during dinner. However, the “recycling food” process may decrease the quality of food and thereby counteract by creating more waste since students may pot for other choices of food that might hold better quality. Thereby the original “food scrap” that was used to recreate a meal created additional waste and, as a result, rather than providing a solution for the original problem, it created an additional problem.
Perhaps one of the fastest growing organizations that strives’ to solve the “food scrap” on a University Dinning Hall scale is The Food Recovery Network (FRN). FRN is a student-run organization that originated in The University of Maryland in 2011 with the goal of creating awareness of the food waste that University Dinning Halls create by taking the “food scraps” the these dinning halls create every night to local food banks and home shelters once the dinning halls have closed. During the course of four years, from 2011 to 2015, The FRN have managed to branch out to 135 College and University campuses across America and have donated over 688,148 pounds of “food scraps” to the local community vii. To put numerically, The US Department of Education states that there are currently around 4,861 Universities and Colleges from which only 135 (36%) have worked with The FRN, and yet these institutes have manages to donate over half a million pounds of edible un touched “food scrapes” to the community[iii].
Because The FRN, is ran by students it is not costly to the University. In fact, because the FRN is ran by students, the Universities and Colleges that network with the organization is able to save money and in return invest more money in the campus itself. The money that the educational institutions is able to economize is due to the fact that The FRN ensures that all of the food that will be relocated from the dinning hall to the food bank or shelter is done via students – whether it is walking or by car – the fact that the FRN organization develops in the Universities as a club once it has been implemented ensures that this step is taken in such manner. Therefore, as a result, the original money that a University or College had as a budget to ensure the disposal of these “scraps” can be invested in other areas of education vii.
How much food “waste” could Universities and Colleges save through organizations?
Even though 36% of all higher level educational institutions have opted to work with the FRN, there is still a significant amount of Universities (64%) that are most likely dumping food that could potentially help lower areas of the community vii. Even though the amount of Universities that could join forces with organizations such as The FRN is high, the amount of food waste that each of these Universities and Colleges could potentially prevent is even higher, and thereby more significant. According to Recycling Networks, a network company designed to help various institutions and corporations such as companies reduce food waste, a viable formula that could be used to find out how much food waste Universities and Colleges, specifically, produce is the difference between the amount of food provided at the dinning hall and the amount of food consumed by the students v. The University of Miami, for example, has 9,979 undergraduate students who live on campus, to which, if we assume each students eats three meals a day in one school year (52 weeks) that weigh .35 pounds each. In one school year the entire student body at the University of Miami should consume an average of 544,853.4 pounds of food, which means that if The University were looking to reduce its Dining Hall food waste it should prepare slightly more than the estimate (perhaps 200,000 more pounds), but not significantly more (per see 600,000 extra pounds).
Even though estimating the potential food waste will not grant Universities and Colleges a reliable number to work with in order to prevent food waste during one school year since students could always eat somewhat more or less, calculating how much potential waste could be the start of a process that might help University Officials understand the importance of working with organizations that provide more efficient methods of “disposing” food waste than throwing them out. University of Miami, for example, is currently not networking with any organization, like The FRN, that helps dispose food waste in a more efficient manner. However, if the University’s President, Dona E. Shalala, saw the initiative of student’s to help the community save, per see 100,000 pounds of food waste per week, she might decide to enter The FRN community and begin to take The University of Miami daily “food waste” to the Miami Dade Food Bank.
Universities and Colleges across The United States strive to make a difference in the community. Whether it is by research or by educating, all higher levels of education across the nation seek to structure well minded civilians that will one day aid the community through various fields or forms. Yet, these institutions are providing The United States with something else that is, in fact, of less importance: food waste. Because Universities and Colleges are institutions that educate individuals of the importance of doing the good in the world, universities should begin implementing policies and networks that will, in effect, do good in there single communities by diminishing their own rate of food waste. Since food waste is a phenomenon, to which an extend, these institutes cannot avoid because of the lack of reliability in its calculations, colleges and universities should seek to implement policies, such as promoting tray-less dinning halls, or network with organizations, such as the FRN, that provide better alternatives to deal with the potential waste that dinning halls produce.
 “Resource Conservation: Food Recovery Resources.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 31 March. 2015
 Merrow, Kylie, Penzien Philip and Dubats, Trevor. Exploring Food Waste Reduction in Campus Dinning Halls (n.d): The Campus as a Living Laboratory with Dr. Harold Glasser, 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.
 “Environmental Issues and Solutions to Current Environmental Problems.” NRDC. N.d. We. 31 Mar. 2015
 Davis, Alexa. “Eliminating College Dinning Halls Trays Cutes Water and Food Waste.” New York, NY. October 25, 2008. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.
 “Food Waste Etmation Guide.”- Recycng Works Massachussetts. Np., n.d Web. 31. Mar 2015.
 Barlett, Peggy F. “Campus Sustainable Food Projects: Critique and Engagement.” American Anthropologist 113.1 (2011): 1001-15 Web. March 25, 2015
 “About Us.” Food Recovery Network. N.p. n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
 “US Colleges and Universities.” Home. US Department of Education, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2015