By Kris Lancaster and Shannon Bond
The sound of plates clattering onto the return belt fills the air after a typical lunch at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. It is a mix of leftovers and empty plates, bowls, and cups, depending on the student and the meal served.
On Nov. 10, 2015, however, students were met by a collection of faculty, other students, and EPA staff surrounding four orange buckets. Each bucket had a label and a picture taped to the side, declaring the contents to be fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, dessert, or protein/dairy.
While curious students handed over their plates, an EPA staff member explained that Haskell was working with EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team in an effort to reduce food waste, and as such, would they answer a few questions.
“Is there a particular reason you didn’t finish the hotdog, and what would you do to reduce food waste here at Haskell?” While some of the students declined to answer, most of them were happy to offer opinions, ranging from having differently sized serving spoons to donating the leftovers.
These students were in luck, since Haskell a few days later offered a Food Show, which allowed them an opportunity to try foods from different vendors. During the show, students were able to visit the dining facility, taste food from several vendors, and vote on their favorites.
Haskell conducted two food waste audits in September and November 2015, where discarded food and drink was sorted by type, weighed and logged. The goal is to avoid sending food waste to the landfill. In 2013, Americans generated 37 million tons of food waste, with only 5 percent diverted for composting. Food waste is the largest stream of materials in our landfills, accounting for 21 percent of the nation’s waste stream.
EPA Life Scientist Lisa Thresher explains that these audits help keep food from the landfill by providing Haskell a way to analyze food consumption data. Once trends are identified, the university can implement changes that will have the most impact. Along with these audits, Haskell has met with EPA staff several times in order to identify food recovery strategies.
After the lunchtime food recovery efforts, EPA Region 7 Air and Waste Management Division Director Becky Weber awarded certificates to dining services staff and students for their food waste recovery contributions. EPA staff also participated in a roundtable meeting with university staff on campus.
EPA’s Food Recovery Program is a national initiative aimed at encouraging organizations to find better alternatives to throwing food away. This is accomplished by working with organizations such as universities, K-12 schools, grocery stores, restaurants, sports stadiums and other organizations to set annual goals to reduce the amount of food they send to landfills. EPA helps organizations reach their food recovery goals by offering technical expertise.
Once in landfills, food breaks down to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In addition to helping slow climate change, other potential benefits of food recovery include the reduction of food disposal cost and the opportunity to feed community members in need through food donation.
- Please help us #ReduceFoodWaste
- Read Lisa Thresher’s food recovery blog
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About the Author: Kris Lancaster specializes in agricultural relations for EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. After graduating from Central Missouri State University, he worked for the chairman of the Missouri House Ag Committee and the ranking member of the U.S. House Ag Committee. His family owns a row-crop farm in Scotland County, Mo. Kris has three decades of media relations experience.
About the Author: Shannon Bond is the digital communications lead for EPA Region 7. He spent many years in the technology sector as a network specialist before serving as a multimedia producer, photojournalist, broadcast specialist, and public affairs superintendent. As a student of health and wellness, Shannon believes that the ecosystem of the self is intricately connected to the environment. His chosen method of enjoying the environment is pedaling a bicycle wherever the path will take him.