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Approximately a ton, or nearly 2,000 pounds, of food waste is thrown into the trash at the Zorn Dining Commons on a daily basis. To put that amount into perspective, a car weighs a ton.
An elephant will typically weigh a ton. A hippopotamus is another animal that falls into that weight category. This waste does not include liquids such as milk and juice.
General Manager of the Dining Commons, Josef Quirinale, described the domino effect of what this waste does. He said if less food is wasted, less food is prepared. If less food is prepared, students can get a wider variety of food and save their own meal plan money.
“It’s like taking a couple hundred bucks every day-it’s more than a couple hundred bucks-and saying, ‘I’m throwing this in the garbage’,” Quirinale said.
He also said, “It’s your money that is getting thrown away. I don’t think that’s quite hit home. We’re [dining commons staff] trying to make that hit home.”
Members of the dining commons staff have begun what they call the “box project.” Boxes and milk crates were placed in the front entrance of the cafeteria, past the hand-scan lobby. These boxes are labeled by day, showing how much food is wasted in that specific period of time.
“They’re front and center, they’re in your face so you have to stop and wonder and you have to look at them every day and it keeps growing and growing,” Rebecca Briggs, registered dietitian and marketing manager of the dining commons, said.
Briggs explained that the project is a way to “visually represent how much food is wasted on plates. Post consumer waste is what we technically call that here in the dining commons, in hopes that a visual representation might bring about some awareness and raise the conscienceless of students to maybe change that,” she said.
Dining Commons Service Manager Penny LaPalme said the most waste she sees gets tossed out is during the dinner meal period.
Nate August, senior service manager of the dining commons, said typically Tuesday and Wednesday nights are the busiest in terms of population.
He said there are above 1,800 to 1,900 guests that come through the door to eat (or, from what statistics show, not eat the entirety of what is on their plates).
“And with that 1,800 to 1,900 visitors, you have the potential of having almost 500 pounds of waste,” Quirinale said. LaPalme said the total amount of waste per day is between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds.
These cafeteria staff members pointed out that once something gets taken from a pan, stove, basket or pot, it cannot be put back out or salvaged for health reasons.
This may be why August finds whole items, such as apples, left to be thrown in the trash on the dish carousel.
August recalled that sometime in October, 200 guests pledged to clean their plate for a meal period.
He said those 200 people alone made a little bit of a difference.
LaPalme recommended students and other dining guests take smaller amounts of food and said to “think of it like a regular restaurant, wait until the line goes down so you’re not grabbing things from places you don’t really want. I know it’s hard because sometime there’s everything you like in one day,” she said.
Quirinale pointed out that another trend he’s noticed is that specific portions of meals tend to be thrown out, such as hamburger buns, because some would rather eat just the meat given.
Sometimes a student won’t want onions in something or dislike certain parts of a big dinner, but can easily ask for a specific plate of food.
“They don’t have to get what they don’t want,” he explained, and said many students aren’t aware of that.
August compared the process of finishing all the food on one’s plate to recycling.
He recognized recycling as an easy task and something that comes second nature nowadays.
“By not having to think too much about what you’re doing, just by simply cleaning your plate, you can have an environmental impact at some point along the way,” August said.
Briggs said waste not only has cost implications, but there’s a nutritional perspective of it.
She also addressed the hunger issue and said this food can be “used to feed people all over the world and in our own community.”
She also mentioned the sustainable aspect of food production and said for consumers to think about how many resources it takes for food to make it out of the farm, onto trucks, into cafeterias and onto one’s plate.
August said the amount of waste at Keene State College can be put on paper and in percentages, but to really see how much this waste accumulates over time is their aim.
Notes on napkins have been posted on corkboards in the dining commons and guests have asked what the boxes are all about, which is what August said was the intention.
Quirinale said, “If we’ve have one hundred students ask, then they’ve had their awareness raised and that’s important to us.”
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at email@example.com