This year, Campus Dining no longer wants napkins to be thrown in compost bins. Napkins interfere with its efforts to accurately measure food waste in the residential dining halls.

Apart from separating the disposal of napkins from organic food matter, nothing else about waste disposal has changed, said Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president of Campus Dining.

“The goal is to divert every ounce of organic food waste from going into the landfill,” Haneef said.

According to Haneef, all nine of Princeton’s dining halls still send their waste to AgriArk, an industrial food waste processing operation in Hopewell, N.J., only nine miles away, where the food scraps are converted into a high-grade, nutrient-dense fertilizer.

Greening Dining, a student group that collaborates with Campus Dining to encourage sustainable eating practices, welcomes the accurate collection of food waste data, but wants the opportunity to compost the napkins, the group’s co-president said.

“They can’t compost napkins right now, which is fair, and data is really important, but to us it seemed like a shame and a loss that the napkins are not being composted even though they are compostable,” she said.

Another of the co-president’s concerns is that the new disposal system needs to be more intuitively designed since students are already accustomed to throwing napkins in the landfill bin.

“There is no finish line to this,” said Haneef. “I see this as continuous improvement.”

According to Haneef, Campus Dining has become increasingly focused on engaging with students and faculty where there is a direct interest in working with food, food systems, and the environment.

“At a global level, the food and agriculture sector accounts for 40 percent of all natural resource consumption,” said Haneef. According to her, this sector’s large contribution to climate change is yet another reason why the University is encouraging academic research on sustainable food systems. To that end, the University’s Food and Agriculture Initiative brings leadership to the sustainability movement by providing education in its most basic form and facilitating the global transaction of knowledge across disciplines on a common issue.

Students take a really active role in this process, Haneef added, describing Campus Dining’s relationship to student groups like Greening Dining as “mutual” and “synergistic.” The University’s pilot food recovery program, for instance, was supported by student dialogue over many semesters, said Haneef.

Food waste weigh-ins, conducted by Greening Dining several times throughout the academic year, is yet another example of activism on the part of sustainability-conscious student groups. At a Forbes Sunday brunch weigh-in on April 26, 2016, the co-president of Greening Dining said that a total of 115 pounds of waste was documented — about the same weight as a small person.

“It’s crazy,” said the co-president of Greening Dining. “There ends up being a whole pizza that’s not touched or a burger that’s not touched.”

The changes to the disposal system implemented this year are aimed at reducing these numbers. The combined efforts of Campus Dining and student groups like Greening Dining increase awareness and engagement for sustainability through the University’s food systems.

Haneef agreed that student participation is important.

“We want to encourage more experiential and community based engagement, internally within the department, across departments within the university, and with students, graduate and undergraduate,” Haneef said.

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