UT Union’s vendor voluntarily complies with food waste goals

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance, implemented Oct. 1, requires businesses to divert organic waste from landfills to places such as food banks, farms and compost centers. The ordinance impacts every food vendor in the city, except those located inside state entities such as UT, which has no policy in place requiring any waste diversion for food service contractors in Unions. 

However, UT has set its own waste diversion goals, which the University Union’s contracted third party vendor Aramark voluntarily complies with. Aramark manages many of the franchise food vendors in the Texas Union and Student Activity Center, said James Buckley, University Unions director of facilities and operations. Aramark requires kitchen employees to report all organic food waste before it is sent to be composted. These guidelines voluntarily comply with the University’s goal to reduce waste sent to landfills, Buckley said. 

“The easy thing to do is just throw (food waste) away,” Buckley said. “(The current process is) a lot more effort than just throwing it in the trash can and walking away. So it takes effort on everybody’s part.”

As part of Aramark’s requirements, employees toss food waste, such as lemon rinds or chicken trimmings, into green compostable plastic bags. Before it is thrown into the compost bin, the contents of each bag are photographed, weighed and given a reason why they are being disposed. 

“We’ve come a long way, working in partnership with Aramark, to control things,” Buckley said. “Most (organic waste) now is composted, that’s great, we’re keeping it out of the landfill and there’s no contamination issues.”

Using this data, food service directors can visualize the collected waste data in a comprehensive compost report.

“If (Aramark is) putting up enough of an effort with voluntary compliance, then that’s great, but it should be a policy,” said Matthew Preisser, environmental and water resource engineering and public affairs graduate student. “It shouldn’t be an option, everybody should have to do it.”

Buckley said Aramark’s contract with University Unions will expire in May 2021. Sustainability director Jim Walker said he hopes the next request for proposal will encourage future bidders to adopt more compostable policies.

“The next time those contracts come up, I’m hopeful that we’ll have language in the (Requests for Proposals) that will be even more proactive in terms of encouraging vendors to providing compostables and helping us meet those goals,” Walker said.