Since Jan. 21, 12,000 pounds of edible food have been wasted in Colorado College dining facilities.
Above the compost bins in Rastall Hall, a handmade sign declares that students and faculty who eat at the all-you-can-eat cafeteria are throwing roughly 250 pounds of food away each day.
CC freshman Whit Walker decided to change that trend.
During fourth block, Walker was getting annoyed with all the food that was being thrown out by students on a regular basis. It was then that he started his study on the amount of food students were throwing away.
After nearly every meal, Walker and his team measured the amount of food waste from the compostable bins in Rastall. The results are staggering.
“I just decided to do something about it,” Walker said. “I decided that if we could find some sort of incentive or motivation for the students we could help decrease the food waste.”
One of the incentives Walker and fellow freshman Andy Post came up with was a sticker campaign. Students who finish everything on their plate get a square, yellow sticker that reads “Proud Owner of a Clean Plate.” The project has been a big hit with students.
“Whit came to me in December and said he wanted to put together a waste-reduction campaign. I told him it was a great idea,” Derek Hanson, Director of Operations for Bon Appétit, said.
Walker and his team, including Post, are committed to the project.
“I’d say this last block we probably weighed after 95 percent of the meals,” Walker said. “We’re trying to get more and more people on board.”
The clean plate initiative has to be an all-college endeavor, he says.
“I think both Rastall making too much food and students taking too much food are definitely an issue,” Walker said. “Rastall has more of an excuse because you can’t have kids go up there and they not have food. They still throw out a fair amount of food though.”
“We have numbers of how many people ate at specific meals going back to July of 2008,” Hanson said. “We refer to those numbers and that’s how we figure out how much food to make. And it’s pretty accurate; the numbers are consistent.”
Bon Appétit is cognizant of the amount of food they make in order to reduce waste, but they can’t control what community members do after they pile up their plates.
“Being here for a good amount of time, the chefs are pretty locked in to the amount of food we need to complete a meal,” Hanson said. “Sometimes we get thrown a curveball. I don’t think we ever really over-produce. It’s more of students choosing to grab too much food.”
Bon Appétit, CC’s food provider, tries to reduce food waste by having servers serve the food to limit students who take more than they can eat.
“In Rastall, you can go back up as many times as you like, but we hope that when you eat a proportioned meal, served by our servers, that that will be enough for you,” Hanson said.
As for the excess food made in Rastall, Walker and Post have a plan for that, too.
“We’ve been talking to someone about getting all the extra food Rastall makes and giving it to a homeless shelter or some sort of charity,” Walker said.
Bon Appétit does give some of the extra food to the CC kitchen after meals, but not all of it. If the food is perishable, there is not much Rastall can do to save it. It comes down to the supply and demand students create when they take too much food.
Although the “Clean Plate” campaign has been popular among students, there has been no difference in the amount of food waste.
“I notice it with my friends and some other people doing it, but as far as the data goes, there is no difference in the amount of food people throw away,” Walker said.
After every meal, Walker and his team measure the amount of dining waste in the compost bins that can be seen at the exit of Rastall. To determine the amount of unnecessary food waste in the bins, Walker determines the weight of other items such as napkins and fruit rinds and subtracts it from the total weight.
The food waste, which used to be composted on campus, is now processed through the Bestway disposal company.
“We need to get better about the stickers so we can hand them at to more people on a regular basis. It will give the students at least some incentive. We just printed 1,000 stickers yesterday,” Walker said.
Walker offers some advice to those who have bigger eyes than stomachs: “If you’ve never had something before and you’re not sure if you’ll like it, just take a bite. Also, the smaller plates help. You can go up for as many trips as you want. There’s no need to bring three massive plates to your table.”
Deputy News Editor