According to the Food & Agriculture Organization, “Food waste refers to the discard of edible foods at the retail and consumer levels.” At a time when about 1 in 6 Americans live in households that are food insecure, we should do all we can to reduce the amount of food we waste. The financial impact of food waste is considerable, as is the ecological impact.
When it comes to food at Williams College, we try to decrease waste and increase composting of unused or uneaten food.
At each dining hall clearing station or dish return area, there is signage on the walls with updated examples of every non-food item that is compostable in that dining hall (all food is compostable!)
In most locations, the food waste barrel has a 10″ hole with a magnetic rim around the edge to attempt to catch any utensils that get accidentally dropped into the hole.
PJ’s Trash & Appliance Removal collects and empties this food waste daily into totes (essentially trash cans on wheels, where it is layered with sawdust until it is taken up to T.A.M. Organics in Bennington and incorporated into large windrows with other compostable material where it breaks down and turns into compost that can be added as an enrichment to soil. (Until Fall of 2016, it was taken to a large on-campus dumpster where it would be delivered quarterly or so to Holiday Brook Farm, where they incorporate our food waste sludge into their outdoor composting system. For a while before that, compost was taken to Caretaker Farm in Williamstown.)
Compostable plates, utensils, cups, and other items are increasing in popularity as an alternative to disposable items that will end up in a landfill.
Williams Dining has moved in that direction as well for disposable to-go coffee cups and other coffee items (sleeves, lids, straws). However, the campus has some infrastructure impediments before we close the loop on this. Currently, as mentioned above, the only locations with compost bins are dining halls and Goodrich Coffee Bar. When one takes a to-go disposable coffee cup out of the dining hall in the morning and heads to class, there are no bins elsewhere on campus where those compostable items can be properly disposed. (In April, we will begin a composting-in-dorms pilot program to begin to address this issue.)
Other reusable initiatives to try offer other alternatives are Dining’s Reusable Container Program (for reusable clamshells for to-go food and reusable bags for Grab ‘n Go) and reusable to-go travel mugs.
The LeanPath scale system facilitates weighing all food waste and generating reports on waste trends. While using LeanPath for tracking pre-consumer food waste generated in kitchens is common at institutions such as Williams College, the application of this system for front-of-house operations was groundbreaking when we started it in the fall of 2015.
The Director of Dining and Dining staff worked with LeanPath for over six months to design the unique weigh station and software update now being used to measure post-consumer food waste at Mission Park Dining Hall. This pilot project for LeanPath promises to establish a new best practice among their clients already using the scale system in the kitchen.
Consumer-generated food waste is a significant waste stream at Williams College that has until recently gone unrecorded at the dining hall level. The information collected on consumer habits by the new system shows daily waste trends and empowers Dining to adjust production amounts, modify menus, and educate students and others about their habits in an effort to reduce overall waste.
Student Research Project
Summer Food Waste Audit – Chris Stefanik ’16