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Wasted: New study reveals hefty food waste concerns in university cafeteria

ORU students are tossing more than $600,000 in the trash each year from food waste, according to a recent study conducted by the Oracle.

This estimate assumes only 25 percent of food is thrown away, which is a conservative figure. However, experts from Sodexo, one of the nation’s largest food service companies and the National Resources Defense Council, say that Americans throw away approximately 30 to 40 percent of their food.

In a nine-day study, the Oracle weighed the dining hall’s 32-gallon trashcans at breakfast, lunch and dinner to log daily food waste weights. The study also totaled the number of students eating in Saga, keeping track of the per capita student count.
During that time, students pitched more than 5,000 pounds worth of partially eaten or uneaten food scraps.

University officials are well aware of the waste issue and have worked to address it in the past, said Tim Philley, executive vice president and chief operations officer.

“Years and years ago, there were some attempts to control waste, driven not only by stewardship or lowing operating costs, but by a focus on world hunger,” Philley said. “Lots of people are starving all over the world, and we are so blessed in the United States. It’s a shame we waste as much as we do. We should be setting the example.”

One of the changes the university made was to reduce the number of trays in the cafeteria about five years ago so that students had to make additional trips to food stations.

But even with this foray into trayless dining, students still throw away more than 124,000 pounds of food in one school year, as estimated by the study.

ORU spends $2.5 million on food annually, Philley said. He urged students to consider the financial benefits when reducing waste.

“If you only cut the waste by half, that’s $312,000 per year that could be put back into the program to improve it,” Philley said.

Sodexo is ORU’s current food provider. In 2010, the company launched the international “Stop Wasting Food” initiative to try and raise awareness on college campuses about food waste.

“The best way to reduce waste is to stop it at its source before it even happens,” said Kristi Theisen, senior manager of sustainability for Sodexo, who helps oversee the campaign. “People get really excited about recycling and composting, which are wonderful, but even better is not having the waste that you’re trying to recycle, compost or do something with after it exists.”

Theisen added that many students don’t realize how their personal waste compounds with the waste across the country and around the world.

“It adds up to either a big problem or a big opportunity,” Theisen said.

In matters of food stewardship, some argue that Christians are one of the lowest-ranking groups.

“Our example that we set at ORU is anything but [stewardship],” said Dr. John Korstad, professor of biology. Korstad also teaches the honors course “Global Development and Sustainability.”

“As a Christian, we should be thinking that we are here to care for God’s creation — not pollute it,” Korstad said.

Food waste is a significant source of methane gas, a greenhouse gas that affects the ozone layer 21 times more than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Korstad explained organic matter from food waste, once it gets rinsed off plates and goes down the drain, eventually enters lakes and rivers. It then pollutes these water sources and contributes to blue-green algae growth.

He challenged students to consider stewardship in a new light.

“Mention ‘stewardship,’ and most people think of finances,” Korstad said. “It’s way more than that. It’s a whole lifestyle and should be intertwined and part of our being.”

Philley said the way to reduce food waste is simple: take as much as you want, but eat all you take.

“Students tend to eat with their eyes first,” Philley said. “My advice would be to take one food option/portion, eat it, and if you are still hungry, get more.”


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