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U. dining services make food disposal changes to address sustainability

Campus Dining upgraded food disposal areas in the residential college dining halls during Intersession in order to keep food waste clear of unwanted items, such as napkins and utensils, and to improve the measurement of food waste on campus.

The changes can easily be seen at each food disposal area. There are posters that read “FOOD WASTE ONLY NO Napkins or Liquids; please put cups and bowls on belt.” The posters point to garbage bins marked “FOOD WASTE ONLY” and “TRASH ONLY.”

Campus Dinings has also added a magnetized collar around compost bins meant to catch venturesome silverware.

Nevertheless, these changes were met with widespread confusion, explained Campus Dining Sustainability Manager Sarah Bavuso in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

“Student questions have ranged from “Why can’t we compost napkins?” to “What’s the deal with the magnet?” to “What do I do with my cereal bowl?” Bavuso added.

First, what students need to know, according to Bavuso is that the contents of the “FOOD WASTE ONLY” bins are either being fed to animals or used for compost. This means that anything inedible, such as plastic, utensils, napkins, and foil wrappers should only be thrown in the “TRASH ONLY” bins, Bavuso explained. 

Second, continued Bavuso, liquids should not be disposed of by students, but instead placed on the belt or counter for the dishwashers to handle, because they increase the weight of food waste, thereby distorting the University’s measurements.

“We know it’s confusing,” said Bavuso. “But it’s important students understand why we are making the changes.”

“Once you understand the context behind the effort, it helps everyone,” explained Cecilia Shang ’18, Co-President of Greening Dining, a student group that collaborates with Campus Dining to adopt and improve sustainable practices in the dining halls.

“Understanding the rationale behind the upgrades makes it easier to see that campus dining is doing as much as they can and that they are being thoughtful to reduce the waste that we produce,” said Shang. “It is kind of on students to take that into account and modify their own their behavior.”

“There have also been significant changes as well behind the scenes,” Associate Director of Marketing and Community Engagement Chris Lentz wrote in an email.

The University recently partnered with Organic Diversion, a food waste hauler based in Marlton, N.J. Organic Diversion, according to Lentz, has not only established best-in-class processes for composting, but is also pushing for further innovation.

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According to Organic Diversion CEO Rocco D’Antonio, Organic Diversion is unique in the industry because of its collection methodology and technology, which turns a portion of the food waste it collects into renewable energy.

“What makes us different is, number one, we only do organic waste,” said D’Antonio. “No trash or recycling.”

Organic Diversion steps in when food cannot be sold or repurposed, explained D’Antonio. The company diverts it from landfills to reduce its impact on the environment.

“On the technology side, we takes a variety of different forms of organic waste, and through anaerobic digestion, we break down that material,” said D’Antonio. “We strap the biogas, which is about 60 percent Methane, and the balance that we produce, after we use about 30 percent of the fuel to run our facility, goes back to the grid.”

This waste hauler change was important for policy reasons as well. N.J. Senate Bill No. 1206, passed on January 25, 2018, by N.J. Senator Christopher Bateman, requires large food waste generators to cut their food waste in half by 2030.

In order to qualify as a “large food waste generator,” an institution must produce “at least 52 tons per year of food waste,” so the University is directly affected.

“Organic Diversion is proactively thinking about the future and how to address the needs of large food waste producers to meet such goals,” said Bavuso. “They are providing an avenue not just to recover food to be used to feed animals, but to go beyond and offer a solution that does not deplete non-renewable natural resources.” 

The University’s partnership with Organic Diversion and the changes made directly in our dining halls are two examples of how Campus Dining and the Office of Sustainability are upholding the University’s Sustainability Plan, a framework that prioritizes reducing the consumption and disposal of natural resources, especially through food waste.

While food waste is a global challenge, it is one that University students, faculty, and staff can tackle on a local level, as long as individual efforts are being made on both sides, Bavuso explained.

“Reducing food waste is one of the things people can rally behind. No one can advocate for food waste,” said Shang. “As students, we are the consumers, we produce the waste, and we need to be cognizant of it. These institutional efforts need to be matched with behavior change.”