This past fall, Eco-Reps paired with UVM Dining to conduct the annual food disposal measurement program known as Weigh the Waste. Throughout the span of a week, Eco-Reps took turns standing in Redstone Dining, engaging with students and instructing them to sort their unfinished food into one of three compost bins. Each bin consisted of either edible waste, inedible waste, or liquid waste.
At the end of each night, each bin’s weight was recorded. This year, the daily average was roughly 70 pounds of total waste (UVM Dining). The primary goal of Weigh the Waste is to compare the current data reflecting food waste to the data of previous years, and to identify any noticeable trends.
Students were curious about and open to this process, frequently communicating with the Eco-Reps, sharing any comments and curiosities that they held. Several students expressed their interest by asking questions regarding the event’s purpose. Many appeared to enjoy taking part in brief discussions about composting and wasted food.
This year, the Eco-Reps were curious to see the potential impact of the new COVID-19 dining regulations on the amount of food waste. In response to the pandemic, self-service within the dining halls has been entirely removed. Only the dining staff members are permitted to serve meals. Speaking on this matter, Eco-Reps Change Agent Nerida Williams shares, “Since my first Weigh the Waste shift was during a period where students couldn't exactly portion their own meals, I think the data this season is going to be interesting compared to the years before when students could choose their own portions.”
Interestingly, the average ounce per person has decreased, and is noticeably lower than previous years. This year, the total average number of ounces of waste per person was the lowest it has been in the past six years, at 1.72 ounces per person. This quantity has dropped a great deal in the past two years. In 2018, this figure stood at 5.77 ounces per person, and then at 3.31 ounces in 2017 (UVM Dining). This reduction in food waste is surprising, considering lack of portion control by students could have easily resulted in the opposite outcome. Considering the dining staff tends to dish out hefty portions, it could be assumed that the data would present differently.
To combat the substantial issue in our society that is food waste, students can be conscious of the amount of food you take when eating in the dining hall. Only take what you think you will eat, then go back for seconds if your hunger is not satisfied. This thinking can be applied to students living off campus as well. When grocery shopping, make a shopping list and stick to buying foods you know you will eat. Regularly sort through your fridge and take note of when foods will spoil, making sure to eat them before that time comes. Preserve your food by freezing them prior to meal time, so they are able to last longer.
The Eco-Reps program is dedicated to the cultivation of environmental responsibility and the promotion of sustainable practices at a campus level. Weigh the Waste perpetuates this mission by spreading awareness of the impacts of food waste to the student body. The hope is to continue fostering mindfulness surrounding the environmental impact of our UVM community.
Nora Looney '23 is a Change Agent on Athletic campus.