food waste

Remedios Avila cleans the compost machine twice a day with wet cardboard. The Division of Housing & Food Service has composted over 250 tons of food waste between September 2011 and September 2012.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

My journey with food waste began with a banana peel. 

Finding myself one morning of spring 2013 far from the plethora of garbage options in JCL — recycling, compost, landfill — I realized I had nowhere to turn for a sustainable way to dispose of said peel. Trash cans abound at the 40 Acres. We’ve got them in all shapes and sizes: stainless steel, pebbly, solar-powered, square, round. We even have a fair amount of recycling bins, also in many shapes and sizes. But we lack a campus-wide composting system. 

Landfills, recycling and composting form the trifecta of trash. Everything we dispose of will end up on one of those three paths. 

Composting is often the enigma in this trifecta. Only organic material can be composted, including food scraps, plant-based dishware (which can look deceptively like plastic) and paper products (with or without food contamination). Up until this year, only DHFS facilities consistently provided composting, leading the way in diverting food waste.

But back to my banana peel. Had I put it in the trash can rather than tossing it in my bag to compost at home, that peel would have followed the landfill path, ending up in the anaerobic pit of a climate change expert’s worst nightmare. Food products in landfills produce methane gas, the most potent greenhouse gas and a huge driver of global climate change. 

When composted in an aerobic environment, organic waste produces little to no methane. In addition, it creates a useful byproduct: the final compost product is a natural soil amendment that improves plant growth. It’s a win-win.

UT’s long-term goal is to operate a zero waste university—to divert at least 90 percent from landfills and incinerators through recycling and composting. This is doable.

After my banana peel experience, a friend and I applied for Green Fee funds to implement campus wide composting — a lofty goal. Our Green Fee was accepted and funded $25,000, with the stipulation that we instead work with the Union and SAC to pay for compost bins and compactors. The next year was spent in meetings, learning the ins and outs of the Union’s waste streams, consumers’ habits and food vendors. 

A waste audit done for the Union and SAC revealed about 72 percent and 76 percent of waste, respectively, could be diverted through either recycling or composting. This is a staggering amount, especially for the Union, which neither recycled nor composted. 

By the end of spring 2014, we had a plan. First, we would acquire a new waste disposal contract to include recycling and composting. Next, our Green Fee funds would purchase additional bins and compactors. And finally, the new waste system would be rolled out in fall of 2014, affecting both back of house and consumer waste streams. The SAC would repeat this process the following academic year.

Although we have hit a few snags along the way, this is a critical move toward zero waste for the Union and UT.

The Union’s next step is to simplify waste disposal by changing food and drink packaging to be either recyclable or compostable. In addition, with new signage, outreach plans and familiarity over time, accurate use of the bins will increase. 

The Union has taken a leap of faith in working with me and other students to increase waste diversion, helping us Longhorns live more sustainably. 

However, we must play our part, too. Pay attention to the bins in which you throw things. Try not to consolidate all your trash into one bag — some of that can be recycled or composted! And most of all, understand that these initiatives matter. They have direct impacts on industrial energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and, consequently, human and environmental health. As we say at the Campus Environmental Center: Bleed Orange, Think Green. 

Kachelmeyer is a Plan II, international relations and geography senior from Sugar Land. She is the director of the Campus Environmental Center. 

Remedios Avila cleans the compost machine twice a day with wet cardboard. The Division of Housing & Food Service has composted over 250 tons of food waste between September 2011 and September 2012.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Austin residents will see more visible changes to the way food waste is handled after City Council declared 2013 the “Year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery.”

The resolution passed by the council lays groundwork for establishing food waste protocol in food retail establishments and nonprofit organizations throughout the city. The city manager’s office will oversee participation by other departments in the effort to become a national leader in food waste recovery.

Brandi Clark Burton, founder and chief inspiration officer of Austin EcoNetwork and EcoCampaigns, was the lead author of the resolution. Burton said she and members of the Food Surplus and Salvage Working Group — a group she founded — started conducting research in September 2011.

The group’s research states the city should universally follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which involves first decreasing the amount of unused food, and then sending usable food to people and animals in need. Inedible food should then be used for industrial purposes such as oil or then sent to composting facilities. The group’s recommendation states that food waste should only go into a landfill after these options have been exhausted.

“I have a lot of goals, and they are different for different audiences,” Burton said. “My hope is that by the end of 2013 that everyone living and/or working in Austin will have come across this conversation about food waste and the food recovery hierarchy and started preventing and redirecting their own food waste and that associated with their businesses too.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by council members Laura Morrison and Mike Martinez. Morrison said she was struck by the staggering amount of food waste in the nation, which includes about 40 percent of all edible food.

“It’s definitely an environmental issue as far as the impacts, but food is also a precious resource, and we need to do better,” Morrison said. “I’m really excited about this. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to raise the bar as a community.”

Robert Kingham, program supervisor in the city’s Health and Human Services Department, said the city has yet to make personnel assignments to oversee food waste reduction. Various city departments will be forming small work groups to work with both restaurants and nonprofit organizations to prevent their food waste.

Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for the University’s Division of Housing & Food Service, said DHFS’s current single-stream composting system allowed for over 250 tons of food waste to be composted between September 2011 and September 2012.

“It’s great and it’s a commendable effort,” Mangrum said. “It’s that much that’s not going into a landfill, but it also is kind of a terrifying number to think that that much is essentially waste that has to be dealt with.”

Mangrum said food waste at the University is difficult to halt entirely due to the sheer volume of students DHFS serves on a regular basis, but UT intends to continue adhering to the city’s standards.

“Some of it can be attributed to taking too much, especially at our all-you-care-to-eat locations, and then some of it can be accredited it to things in the kitchens such as over-preparation and over-ordering,” Mangrum said. “But I think really it’s just because of the large scale that we operate on. In some form or fashion we’re always going to have high numbers, but even with our high volume we are committed to reducing our food waste.”

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: City reuses food waste 

Ph. D. student Soo-hyun Yang throws away her trash in a compost bin at Littlefield Cafe.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Division of Housing and Food Service is teaming with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce its food waste by 5 percent in one year.

The department announced Friday its participation in the EPA’s national Food Recovery Challenge, which tasks participants with decreasing food waste by reducing unnecessary consumption and increasing composting and food donations to charity. The EPA estimates 34 million tons of food are wasted annually in the U.S., much of which ends up in landfills and becomes a significant source of greenhouse gases.

DHFS environmental specialist Hunter Mangrum said the department has been working to reduce food waste for many years by introducing single-stream recycling in dorms, composting, monitoring purchasing and donating over-produced food. Mangrum said it is important that UT be a leader in developing and implementing projects aimed at sustainability and waste reduction.

“In my opinion, this is a global issue, and we are a part of an institution that is globally minded. Thus, it is our responsibility and deep-rooted desire to help better humanity,” Mangrum said. “And I believe here at UT is where so much of that can be fostered, practiced and then shared with the rest of the world.”

While DHFS has not announced any new programs to ensure it meets the program’s 5 percent reduction goal, Mangrum said the resources the EPA will provide through the Food Recovery Challenge may bring added efficiency and new ideas to the department. One such resource that DHFS will use is the WasteWise Re-TRAC, a data managing and reporting system that records and tracks waste generation and reduction activities.

In participating in the Food Recovery Challenge, UT joins Rice University, Baylor University, University of Houston and UT-Arlington, becoming the fifth university in Texas to make the pledge to reduce food waste.

EPA environmental engineer Golam Mustafa said UT will be a valued participant because of its large-scale dining and food operations and the opportunity to educate students about environmental sustainability.

“The reason we are approaching universities is because it’s where our future generations will be educated,” Mustafa said. “They will be taking care of the environment. In our society we waste a lot of food because food is cheap here and it is a very small percentage of our total income compared to Third World countries.”

Mustafa said the 5 percent reduction goal is not binding, and the resources offered by the EPA will continue to be available after a year.

Collin Poirot, political communications senior and assistant director of the Campus Environmental Center, said the University’s decision to take part in the EPA program has partly to do with student advocacy for the issue. The Campus Environmental Center is a sponsored student organization that works to educate students on environmental issues and develop sustainability projects on campus.

“The fact that UT-Austin, one of the largest universities in the country, is helping to lead the way on the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge shows that the administration has listened to student concerns,” Poirot said. “More and more universities across the country are realizing that students want to live somewhere that offers them the opportunity to live sustainably.”