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Green Campus Spotlight: Tackling food waste one lunch at a time
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: January 29, 2016

Food Waste Buffet table closeupStudents eating in Victor’s dining hall last week were presented with an unusual lunch buffet—one that displayed all the uneaten food from students’ lunch plates.

The Food Waste Buffet is a new initiative of the Campus Sustainability Office and PSU’s food services provider, Aramark, aimed at educating students about healthy, responsible eating. During Victor’s inaugural buffet last November, students discarded 128 pounds of food throughout the week—a substantial amount, but about half of what students toss out in a normal week when their food waste is not on display.

The waste buffet was accompanied by an intervention program in the dining hall that included a Taste-Not-Waste sampling service so students could decide if they liked a dish before getting a whole serving, posters and signs that highlighted healthy eating and the social and environmental impacts of food waste, a survey about food-related behavior, and a tally board showing the daily food waste. The Center for Student Health and Counseling was also on hand with information about portion sizes and healthy eating.

“Sustainability can often be an intangible concept for people, but food is something we all are closely connected to. With 40 percent of food wasted in the U.S. annually, awareness and behavior change around food waste is essential,” said Manar Alattar, PSU’s food diversion coordinator and a Ph.D. student in the School of the Environment, who is using data collected during the waste buffets for her dissertation research.

In the United States, about 160 billion pounds of food are wasted each year—that’s about $45 worth of edible food per person per month. At the same time, more than 50 million Americans—about one in six—are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

“Although all food scraps from Victor’s are composted rather than sent to the landfill, the Food Waste Buffet highlights just how much perfectly edible food is going into those green bins,” said Corrine Wapelhorst, Aramark’s residential dining manager. “And it shows that we can do so much better.”

The Food Waste Buffet will happen again during spring term, and Alattar hopes to see a drastically reduced buffet size compared to previous buffets throughout the year.