Composting Is Not Enough

You may have heard that the Dining Hall now composts our leftover food, a terrific step to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. But the issue of food waste is much more deeply ingrained into our society. Here’s a fairly shocking statistic: 40% of food produced in the US goes to waste. That’s 20 lbs per person per month. Half of these losses are difficult to control, because crops are lost to disease, weather, or quality standards. But we can do something about the other 50% of food waste – the consumer waste that we create.

Olin’s composting program is a great start. We compost both pre-consumer waste (like vegetable scraps from the kitchen), and post-consumer waste (the leftovers on your plate). Rather than going to landfills, this food is turned to nutrient-filled soil, some of which is used in the garden here at Olin.

But for all the benefits of composting, it doesn’t actually reduce the amount of wasted food. When food goes to waste, the resources used to produce the food are also wasted, which takes a large toll on the environment. In the US, food production accounts for 10% of the total energy, 50% of land, and 80% of freshwater used. This is especially worrisome as the increasing world population, projected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, and unsustainable resource use may lead to food shortages.

Food waste also extends to social issues – Americans are throwing away the equivalent of $165 billion each year while 50 million people go hungry. Colleges alone waste 22 million pounds of food each year. This comes both from uneaten food on plates and from the excess food made by the kitchen to maintain a large selection and supply.

To help redistribute the excess food from the kitchen, GrOW (Olin’s sustainability club) has partnered with the Food Recovery Network. The Food Recovery Network is a non-profit organization that connects colleges to community organizations, donating the uneaten dining hall food to homeless shelters and food banks. We are in the process of setting up the collaboration, and will soon be reaching out for volunteers to help transport food. To learn more about this, contact Mackenzie Frackleton or stay tuned for further updates.

As for uneaten food, we are individually responsible for that. Soon GrOW will be holding the first of our weekly challenges about reducing individual food waste – so look out for more details. Next time you eat a meal, consider whether you will really eat everything you take. Let’s change our mindset around food and appreciate its value.