Waste Less Dinner at Dewick-MacPhie aims to reduce student food waste

Students man the Waste Table at the Waste Less Dinner at Dewick on April 13, organized by the Tufts University Sustainability Collective and Tufts Dining. Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily

Tufts Dining and Tufts Sustainability Collective (TSC) jointly held a “Waste Less Dinner” last night at the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center to promote less wasteful eating patterns within the student body.

According to Tufts Dining intern Daniel Mulligan, the purpose of the event was to bring students’ attention to the amount of food waste at Tufts, and to the larger environmental and economic implications of post-consumer food waste.

“The event [had] four educational tables, and students [participated] by visiting each of the educational tables with a Waste Less Dinner passport,” Mulligan, a junior, said. “If they receive all four stamps, they [were] entered into a raffle for Jumbo Cash.”

According to Nutrition Marketing Specialist Julie Lampie, 200 of these passports were distributed, and fewer than 30 turned them at the end for the raffle.

The four educational stations were operated by Eco-Reps and TSC-affililated volunteers, who handed out the “passports” and disseminated information on repurposed food, water usage for growing crops, waste collection and composting, Lampie said.

Mulligan explained that the educational stations each had different themes. One table, for example, highlighted compost as a means of reducing food waste that might be entering the trash, she said.

Tufts already composts all organic waste in the dining halls,” Mulligan said. “Now how can we reduce the 306 tons of food waste Tuft’s produced last year?”

Karl Dias, founder of FATBOY Marinade, was at another station to explain how his company uses aesthetically imperfect tomatoes that would have been left on the vine to produce custom blended marinara sauce for Tufts, according to Lampie.

TSC Outreach Director Sophie Lattes explained that, at the end of the event, students were able to go to the “waste station” to scrape their extra food onto a scale so that event organizers could compare the night’s waste to that of an average night.

She said she believes the event raised students’ awareness and thought process surrounding food waste.

“Students were inquisitive, as not everyone was aware of the dinner agenda,” Lampie said. “Having the food collected and not having students placing their trays on the conveyor as usual made everyone aware to some degree that the dinner was about waste.”

According to Lampie, about 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted, including a substantial amount of waste at Tufts.

“Through our analysis at Dewick, we estimate that about 1.6 oz. of food are left on [each student’s] plate at the end of the meal period,” Lampie said.

Mulligan explained that Tufts Dining has also analyzed leftover foods to determine how best to reduce food waste.

“We have also audited waste coming back into the kitchen after meals and found that after breakfast students are leaving completely untouched, uneaten oranges and apples, as well as significant numbers of half-eaten bananas,” Mulligan said. “Because of this, Dining has decided to order smaller bananas for the dining hall and we hope future audits will help highlight other major causes of food waste.”

4/13/16 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Izzy Fontein  quizzes students on water usage at the Waste Less Dinner at Dewick, organized by Tufts University's Social Collective and Tufts Dining, on April 13, 2016. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily) (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Izzy Fontein quizzes students on water usage at the Waste Less Dinner at Dewick on April 13, organized by the Tufts University Social Collective and Tufts Dining. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Lampie and her team hope to inform students that it is best to take only the amount of food that they will eat.

“Even though all the post-consumer waste is composted, in terms of food waste, that’s the least attractive alternative,” she said.

Additionally, the event provided an opportunity to raise awareness about campus initiatives to reduce food waste, such as Tufts Dining’s recent decision to donate excess food to Cambridge-based food recovery organization Food For Free, which serves low-income families in Boston, according to Lampie.

Lattes explained that a representative from Food For Free was present at the event to explain the company’s work and look for volunteers.

“Tufts students can sign up for shifts to take uneaten food that will not be preserved in the dining hall, but is still fresh and nutritious food, and divide it into individual meals that Food for Free picks up,” Mulligan said.

Lampie added that she and her team plan sustainability initiatives — often with student groups — throughout the year. This past fall, for example, Tufts Dining co-sponsored the VEG OUT@Dewick event, a meatless initiative, with the Eco-Reps.

“Typically, student groups reach out to us, but occasionally, we will approach them with an idea and ask them to work with us,” she said.

Lampie said that Tufts Dining has already decided to repeat this event either next fall, or early second semester.

“The Waste Less Dinner was well received by students this evening, and the two students coordinating the dinner with me were delighted and thought the dinner was a success,” she said. “We had good participation at the various stations, but the real take away was seeing the accumulation of food waste from student trays.”