Mercer students found out last week how quickly food waste can add up when you aren’t a member of the “clean plate club.”
As part of a campuswide “Be a Green NeighBear Week,” the students in Heather Bowman Cutway’s environmental science class collected and weighed the food that’s left over after each meal in the university’s cafeteria.
“We are attempting to reduce food waste on campus by letting people be aware of how much food is being wasted on campus,” said sophomore Emily Thompson, a 19-year-old from Albany.
The totals ranged from 103 pounds Tuesday to 218 pounds Friday, with the participating students cutting off their classmates before dishes were put in to be washed.
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Some options, such as Wednesday’s fried chicken wings, were obvious sources of increased food waste, but other food that went to waste more frequently was something of a surprise to Thompson.
“It seems as though people have thrown away a lot of fish,” she said, noting that many desserts also went uneaten. “There haven’t been a lot of vegetables thrown away, so I guess we’re eating our veggies.”
The goal of the project wasn’t just to see which foods were eaten more than others, though. The final numbers served two main purposes, Bowman Cutway said.
“We are advertising the weights each day to encourage students to think about the waste they are responsible for making,” she said in an email. “Second, my students will analyze the data and suggest ways to decrease food waste on campus.”
The students were already thinking that was Friday. Sophomore Bailey Brady, a 19-year-old from Ringgold, joined Thompson in the collection effort and pointed out that the food could be used more wisely if people are just going to throw it away.
“Our resources could be used elsewhere, and there are a lot of hungry people in Macon,” Brady said.
Thompson said the class had studied a program at Virginia Tech, where leftover food is used to feed the homeless in the community.
“So hopefully something like that will be implemented here in a couple of years,” she said.
Mercer’s cafeteria, known as the Fresh Food Company, has already taken steps to reduce its waste footprint, food service director Aaron Probst said. A few years back, management made the decision to take away trays, which has helped.
Probst said students are able to get less food in a single trip, so they tend to only get what they’ll eat.
“I think people’s eyes are bigger than their stomach sometimes,” he said.
The staff also keeps track of production records over the course of a four-year menu cycle, as well as how much is left over of particular items. That way, they’ll know what needs to be bought in smaller volumes.
“So we can try to reduce to amount produced and ultimately waste less,” he said.
Probst was also in support of the project Bowman Cutway’s class performed in the cafeteria.
“I think it’s good to raise awareness about how much food people are actually wasting,” he said.
The week also included service projects and a panel discussion led by students who had studied in other countries. It culminated with a recycling effort during the tailgating for Saturday’s football game against Wofford.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter @MTJTimm.