Most students do not think about what happens to the food they leave on their plate once they put their plate away on the conveyor belt around the corner, out of sight.
In Lindenwood’s Evans Commons dining hall, used plates and bowls, as well as cutlery and cups, are given back to be washed and reused, whereas in the second dining facility, located at the Spellmann Campus Center, all food is given away in disposable wrappings.
According to Nancy Tinker, director of campus dining services, said that the food tossed away by the students goes into composting.
“We do 10 composting bins twice a week at Evans, and six bins twice a week at Spellmann,” said Tinker. “We could probably add to that more if the students would use it more.”
“They did recently start to compost in Spellmann and in Evans, and they have an organic compost where they put their leftovers so they could help to use that, for instance, for fertilizer.” said Matt Ream, a junior biochemistry major and member of the Lindenwood food committee.
Ream started working with Tinker through the food committee on a project that places recycling bins in dorms for a week. He said they collected around 250 pounds of recycling during the week.
“There is definitly need for recycling and I think it is something we need to be pushing for to have full time.” he said. “As Lindenwood University we need to make sure that we are being consciously minded and I think that was lacking.”
“We encourage students to use the composting bins,” Tinker said, “that does not always happen.”
According to a study in 2015 by Recycling Works, a program in Massachusetts, the average college student generates 142 pounds of food waste a year. College campuses as a group throw out a total of 22 million pounds of uneaten food each year, the Food Recovery Network has found in 2015.
Lindenwood University has not weighed its actual food waste in more than three years, according to Tinker.
“So one of the good things of feeding so many students and having so many meals is that we do have minimal waste as far as what we have for our prepared foods,” she said.
The university also generates food waste through its catering service, according to Tinker. Catering produces more waste than in the dining hall, since the food sits out in many places and cannot be reused after.
Lindenwood also has a point of sale system that gives guidelines in how many people to expect. Even though it takes a little while in the beginning of the semester to get the exact number down, it remains pretty steady, said Tinker.
The Spellmann dining hall used to be set up as an all-you-can eat concept with trays provided, and different stations were giving out limited amounts of food at the Evans dining facility either on plates or in disposable styrofoam boxes. With the launch of the national brands Qdoba and Chick-Fil-A as well as Sub Hub and the Grill Spot in August 2016 in Spellmann, Evans became the all-you-can eat option.
“As far as food waste, with the national brands we see a lot less because it is made to order, said Tinker. “And with all the prep work that is done, especially at Qdoba, we get a very fresh product which also results in a lot less waste.”
However, everything that does get wasted from the national brands goes to the composting bin as well, said Tinker.
According to Tinker, wrapping waste increased in Spellmann but it is more streamlined than the waste that used to accumulate at Evans.
“I think getting away from those styrofoam boxes was a big win,” she said.
In terms of cost, Tinker said “anytime you go to using a product that is more eco friendly it’s gonna cost you more money. We have increased our paper costs, but if the program is successful then it is worth it.”
The university also got rid of the trays during that change. Many other universities across the country started going trayless a few years ago, said Tinker.
“The elimination of trays was done to reduce waste and the water usage to clean all the trays,” said Tinker. “It was inconvenient for some, but I have got less complaints from students than we have got from faculty and staff.”