Facing the facts about food waste at the source

Eco-Reps collect data and raise awareness about student waste


Students scrape forks across half-filled plates, emptying the uneaten food into the black square holes of compost bins in the dining hall.

Three Eco-Reps stood in Redstone Unlimited Dining Hall’s waste room, the central hallway between its two main seating areas during the week of Oct. 9.

Students shuffled about the room in a disordered stream until reaching this hub where conversations, laughter and pre-occupied gazes at the floor were interrupted by the three waste warriors.

One by one, each student was asked by an Eco-Rep to put their edible waste in one bin, non-edible waste in another and liquid waste in the third.

By 7 p.m., the bins filled to weigh over 100 pounds in total each night, according to the UVM Dining website.

The website states that for four years, UVM Dining has teamed up with Eco-Reps and Waste Management to collect data on student waste in a study called Weigh the Waste.

The average unlimited dining student wastes 1.77 ounces of food per meal, which further reflects the waste of 537.26 gallons of virtual water, according to the 2017 Weigh the Waste results.

Virtual water is the volume of freshwater it takes for food production, unlike the often negligible real content of water in the food according to VirtualWater.eu.

This figure has dropped since 2012 when the average unlimited dining student wasted 2.67 ounces of food per meal, equal to the waste of 1,012.9 gallons of virtual water according to the Office of Sustainability website.

In the past 10 years the study has observed a decrease in student food waste, equal to saving of 682.54 gallons of virtual water, 0.45 gallons of fossil fuels, and 8.98 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per meal per unlimited dining student.

UVM’s dedication to composting, UVM Dining’s Food Recovery certification, and the Weigh the Waste program are just some examples of the efforts that can be acknowledged for this success, the UVM Dining website states.

According to the website, a Food Recovery Decal at the entrance of every dining hall marks UVM’s status as a location that sends surplus food to people instead of landfills

UVM Dining recognizes this drop in average student waste per meal from the collected data; however, the study aims to make composting and food waste continued issues of concern on campus, according to the Eco-Reps mission statement.

They aim to “cultivate environmental responsibility by training student leaders to promote sustainable practices at the University and encourage environmentally responsible behaviors among peers,” the mission statement said.

Weigh the Waste allows the Eco-Reps to intervene with student waste right at the compost bin.

What students might not realize is that the composting process produces an average impact of 7.07 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 0.35 pounds of fossil fuels, and 537.26 gallons of virtual water per meal, according to the Office of Sustainability website.

With waste in the spotlight of concern in the UVM community, the Eco-Reps work each semester to promote composting and the reduction of waste to their peers.

According to an Oct. 2017 UVM Communications article, the Eco-Reps simply  “want students to realize that even though they’re putting food in the compost bin, it’s still waste.”