On a typical day, roughly 900 pounds of food waste is collected between the five dining facilities and other food distributers on MU campus. Campus Dining Services at MU has taken the initiative to combat this statistic.
Earthright is the project established by Campus Dining Services to promote sustainability and waste management. The program is designed to educate people about their impact on the environment and to prevent excess waste.
“We decided to brand everything under that Earthright umbrella just so that there was something people could identify with,” said Mike Wuest, marketing manager of Campus Dining Services. “That way if they see Earthright at an all-you-can-eat facility or one of the other restaurants on campus, they would know there’s sustainability associated with that.”
The Earthright initiative also buys about 17 percent of its produce from local suppliers in and around Columbia. Campus Dining Services even invites produce suppliers to campus for events that promote interaction between the suppliers and the students.
One major step that Campus Dining Services has taken to become more environmentally friendly is reducing waste by working with Bradford Research Center. Each day, food waste is taken to Bradford and mulched with horse bedding to create compost, which can later be used to fertilize crops. Bradford then supplies some of its vegetables to the dining halls. This takes the recycling process full-circle – from the plate, to the farm and back to the plate.
Tim Reinbott, superintendent of Bradford Research Center, is proud of the program. He is especially proud that the program is student driven.
“I’ll let them make a lot of the decisions. If they’re right or wrong, well, they’ll learn from that,” Reinbott said. “They’ve made some mistakes, but I think because they make mistakes, they’ll learn also.”
Reinbott is enthusiastic for the future of sustainability at the research center. He noted that they are creating more compost than can be used at the farm. Some of the excess compost is sold to local buyers, but Reinbott hopes to one day market the compost through MU – selling it in individual bags with the MU logo and a clever name. He anticipates this will give students new opportunities, such as formulating business plans for the marketing of the product. It could also promote MU’s advances toward sustainability.
Another benefit from the relationship between Campus Dining Services and Bradford is fuel. The waste oil used to cook food in the dining halls can be turned into biodiesel fuel used to run machinery at the farm.
“We burn it in some of the tractors around here and in the forklift and lawn mowers to offset any diesel we’re using in making the composting process,” Reinbott said. “We’re trying to make this as green as possible.”
The athletic department at MU is also interested in working with researchers at Bradford to improve their environmental footprint. Reinbott says the research center is looking to make athletic events more environmentally friendly by providing recyclable or compostable containers.
Although Campus Dining Services is working to find uses for generated waste, it also recognizes the need to decrease the amount of waste produced from the start.
Eric Yount, sophomore journalism major, works at The Mark on Fifth Street. He noted the place where the waste is most evident is when he is doing dishes.
“Sometimes it’s just a few grapes left on a plate, which isn’t really that bad compared to … whole waffles that just float on through,” Yount said.
One of the main instigators of discarded food is the use of trays in dining halls. Students often feel the need to fill their trays, but then realize they aren’t hungry enough for all the food they grabbed. A few years ago, the dining halls began the tray-less dining method. Wuest said that many people were pleased with the results, as the amount of food being discarded by students noticeably decreased.
Campus Dining Services offers diners a few tips on how to personally cut down waste per meal. Diners are encouraged to think out their meals before ordering. Overestimating appetites often leads to excess food on the plate. Dining halls are essentially buffets, so there is always the option to go back for seconds or thirds, even though this is often too much food for one person. More tips can be found at http://dining.missouri.edu/earthright.
Ultimately, no system of combating food waste can be 100 percent effective. Personnel at Campus Dining Services and Bradford Research Center are confident they can create even more efficient methods of dealing with food waste in the future. The Earthright project already helps to deter the issue and raise awareness. However, students and the public have to use information available to make environmentally friendly decisions.