UTD’s Food Waste Diversion Program Places 16th in Campus Race to Zero Waste Competition
May 5, 2020
Paulina Hruskoci, Eco Rep
Caitlin Griffith, Sustainability Coordinator
Campus Race to Zero Waste, the nationwide waste reduction competition UT Dallas has participated in since 2013, came to a quicker end than usual this year. Although waste logging stopped when many college campuses closed, UT Dallas still had an impressive finish in the food waste diversion category, placing 16th out of 144 competing schools. UTD has come a long way in its sustainability efforts, and our food waste reduction program is a great example of growth and improvement.
Let’s take a deep dive and reflect upon the history of food waste diversion on campus since efforts began eight years ago.
The largest part of UTD’s food waste program is food service composting, which began in 2011 with a partnership between Dining Services and Facilities Management. In 2012, UTD proudly reported that we had composted over 500,000 pounds of pre-consumer food waste campus-wide, diverting an estimated 81 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, pre-consumer food waste diversion was just the beginning.
The Food Recovery Network chapter on UTD’s campus was founded in 2016. The Food Recovery Network is a student-led organization that works to donate uneaten food to members of the local community. Since its founding, the UTD chapter has donated over 6,500 pounds of food to help food insecure members of our community. For example, in 2019, the Network donated 959 pounds of food to Hope’s Door, a local DFW [Dallas-Fort Worth] women’s shelter.
Just one year later, in 2017, UT Dallas’s Dining Hall West proudly earned 3 stars from the Green Restaurant Certification. Founded in 1990, this international nonprofit focuses on encouraging the food service industry to become more ecologically friendly. Using scientific standards to certify restaurants and providing an improvement database, this organization has been at work for almost 30 years. UTD hopes to improve to a 4 star certification in the near future.
It was also in 2017 that UTD officially partnered with Organix, a food waste recycling company with connections to many large producers across the nation. UTD hoped this partnership would introduce a more inclusive and efficient composting program on campus. This goal came to light in September 2018 with the founding of the Comet Composting program. Student Government’s Green Initiative took the lead and provided compost buckets to residents of on-campus housing. After attending a brief training, these individuals gain access to on-campus compost collection bins for them to dispose of their waste. Students, staff, and faculty are all welcome to attend the trainings, and the individualized caddies provided by Green Initiative make composting easily accessible for all Comets. The program continues today, and has been growing in participation and success ever since. Since then, more than 11,000 pounds of food waste has been composted from on-campus resident participants of the program. If you want to know more about the Comet Composting program, you can check out our Green Initiative video submission for Digital Earth Week. Jennifer Good, an on-campus participant, also produced a great informational video about at-home composting.
In 2018, post-consumer food waste collection was added at Dining Hall West. With Dining Services taking the lead, specialized compost containers were added near the kitchen and dishwasher areas. Following this change, food waste composted at UT Dallas soared, with an almost 40,000 pound compost increase from 2018 to 2019. 100,000 pounds of food composted in a single year was a huge feat, showing the impressive results of UTD’s commitment to food waste diversion.
UTD’s food waste diversion improvements are not over yet — in fact, the campus was predicted to almost double the amount of food composted from academic year 2019 to 2020. The month of September saw a food composted increase of 4,000 pounds to almost 11,000 pounds.
Although the 2019-2020 academic year was cut short, it is clear the food waste diversion program at UTD is en route for continued success in the future.
Although we finished 16th in food organics and were projected to double consumer food waste from the previous academic year, other categories of the Campus Race to Zero Waste competition leave UT Dallas with room for improvement. In Diversion, UTD finished 114th out of 144 competing schools, and in Per Capita Waste, we placed 103rd out of 191. Although many special recycling programs exist on campus, sometimes it can still be difficult to determine what is and is not recyclable. Student Government’s Green Initiative produced a video on Recycling 101.
Mt. Trashmore 2020, an event hosted by the Sustainability Office that featured one day’s worth of UTD trash at the plinth, aimed to increase awareness about waste on campus. The Sustainability Office is hoping to improve results in the future with more widespread recycling education and initiatives.