Food waste on everyone’s plate

Easy ways to limit food waste are serving meals a la carte or in pre-made portions and removing trays from dining halls.

At your next meal, take nearly half of the food off of your plate and throw it in the trash.

This is what happens to between 30 and 40 percent of the total food in the United States, according the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

That’s more than 20 pounds of food per person per month going into the trash.

Many Americans don’t have the resources to discard that much food. In the United States, one in seven people live in what the World Hunger Education Service called “food-insecure households.”

To understand what they’re going through, throw your whole plate in the garbage instead. It isn’t coming back.

Food waste is your issue even if food insecurity isn’t your situation. Being mindful about food waste can put money back in your pocket.

This is easy to see play out on a small-scale at WSU’s campus, Dining Services Director Gary Coyle said.

The university’s dining program is self-sustaining, which means that every dollar saved goes into making the available food a dollar cheaper or a dollar better.

Waste makes the food more expensive and limits the ability to expand not only menus but infrastructure. There’s a large incentive to be efficient because Dining Services needs customers to see it as a good deal to make its bottom line, Coyle said.

Dining Services and WSU Waste Management has taken a number of different approaches to reduce food waste on campus to roughly 5 percent.

The campus’s commercial-scale composting facility processes 10,000 – 11,000 pounds of organic waste in any given month, Coyle wrote in an email.

It’s the same compost that goes into the herb garden outside of the Southside Cafe and other gardens on campus. These gardens contribute to the quality of the meals Dining Services provides. Much of that compost is the waste off of your plate.

Not all waste is what we consider food anymore: rinds, peels and bones, to name a few, are leftovers that can’t go back on most menus.

Some waste even comes from within the kitchen. Dirty oils and fats used for cooking are sold to companies like Baker Commodities – a green corporation that recycles animal byproducts and kitchen waste into products like animal feed, fuel and cosmetics.

Food waste can even be used as biofuels and it pays right back into the discounted cost of loading up your tray.

With all these efforts, Coyle said the best way to reduce food waste is to make the right amount of food and for people to take the right amount. This explains several of the features of WSU Dining and some of the future changes students may see.

“We tend to eat with our eyes, and sometimes we take too much,” Coyle said.

This is why Dining Services doesn’t offer many buffet-style options at its dining halls. Serving foods a la carte and in pre-made portions helps keep students from taking too much, Coyle said.

Even having a tray may encourage people to more than they can eat. A Dining Services trial during the summer semester found a 5 percent reduction of cost when dining halls removed trays on certain days.

Pending more study, the tray may be on its way out in the future – the rule will be “eat all you can hold” rather than “all you can carry.” After all, you can always go back for more.

Dining Services is investigating possible partnerships with The Campus Kitchens Project, a non-profit organization focusing on food waste from colleges and universities, and the Community Action Center of Whitman County to redirect usable food waste to those in desperate need.

Awareness of the issue and all the ways we can address it are key, Coyle said. Food waste can’t be eliminated, but WSU proves it can be minimized.

We can all be more careful to minimize our costs, our waste and the number of people who go without food.

Don Cooper is a junior political science major from Pasco. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.