Pomona College is participating in a new program to cut down on food waste in its dining halls. The Stop Wasting Food campaign is a pilot program that Sodexo—Pomona’s food service provider—instituted this fall at eight college campuses across the country.
In addition to encouraging students to reduce their individual food waste, the campaign includes a program that measures pre-consumer waste in the dining hall kitchens.
“We are looking at the food that does not end up on the student plates but does end up in the trash,” said Samantha Meyer PO ‘10, Pomona’s Sustainable Food Coordinator. This means that dining services staff is weighing and recording all of its pre-consumer food waste, such as trim scraps and excess and spoiled food.
Pomona implemented one of technology company LeanPath’s waste tracking systems almost a month ago. The system will provide data on how much and what kinds of food the college is wasting. LeanPath will help Pomona analyze the data and identify ways to improve. Once there is sufficient data, the first step will be to try to make less of those items that the college is overproducing.
“For example, we might be ordering too many oranges every week and, as a result, many are going bad,” Meyer said.
LeanPath estimates that four to 10 percent of food purchases end up in the trash, so Meyer anticipates that “there is a potential for big savings and waste reductions.”
Pomona’s Sustainability Director, Bowen Close, said the program not only helps with the college’s waste-reduction efforts, but also with cost reduction, limiting “both the costs of the food we’re buying and throwing away, and the substantial fees we pay to haul trash to the landfill.”
In addition to measuring pre-consumer waste, Sodexo’s “Stop Wasting Food” campaign aims to cut down on student waste. According to the campaign’s website, Americans throw out 25 percent of the food they prepare, contributing to the creation of methane gas, “which is at least 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide” and which contributes to climate change. The campaign encourages students to take only what they plan to eat and to come back for more if they are still hungry.
Tom Post, Sodexo’s president of Campus Services, said that food waste reduction is important to the company’s broader environmental commitment.
“We are so careful to source and serve food for our consumers in a sustainable way,” he said, “but if locally-sourced food ends up in the landfill then we’re simply creating another environmental problem.”
The other seven colleges participating in the “Stop Wasting Food” campaign are Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, California State University at Monterey Bay, Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the University of California at Davis, and the University of Wisconsin in River Falls. The “Stop Wasting Food” campaign is part of Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Campaign, which aims to work with “clients, suppliers, and costumers to take measurable sustainable actions today in the areas of environment, health and wellness and community that ensures a better tomorrow.”
Another Better Tomorrow Campaign in which Pomona participated was the Earth Day 2008 decision to remove trays from Sodexo’s college operations. Sodexo says that this step has reduced waste by 30 percent on average as 340 campuses have permanently stopped using trays.
Meyer said that Pomona is “still getting the hang of the [LeanPath] system,” but that Sodexo and Pomona are both enthusiastic about the prospect of gaining valuable information about waste management and reduction.
“It’s also great that they are doing it now to coordinate with our entire month of waste awareness activities,” Close said. September was the Sustainability Integration Office’s “waste month,” during which they focused on campus-wide issues of waste disposal.