Image from the Daily Athenaeum

Each day, thousands of students walk into West Virginia University dining halls. These wide-eyed students come in and fill up their plates without any room to spare. More often than not, this food ends up not in their stomach, but in the trash.

With the buffet-style serving in university dining halls, it is easy for students to put too much food on their plates and inevitably dump it in the trash. In 2012, the university decided to run their first food waste audit.

The food waste audit took place at each of the WVU dining halls and was assisted by volunteers who would direct students on where to throw away their trash. Trash bins were separated by “landfill” items, “compostable” items, and “recyclable” items.

According to the Daily Athenaeum, the 2012 audit yielded results that showed university dining halls produced a little less than 20,000 lbs of waste.  The audit revealed that 18% of the waste was recyclable and that 68% of the waste was compostable.

Fast forward to 2017, and the university has conducted another waste audit. The waste audit ran from February 6th through the 10th. Students once again disposed of their garbage in the proper waste bins, and then the trash bags were weighed and recorded and the waste was disposed of.

As an employee of a dining hall at the university I think this audit had a few barriers. The first being that students didn’t seem too invested in taking the time to pick the correct trash can. Yes, there were volunteers to assist students in where to put specific trash, but at times they too were not invested in it and many times were on their phones not paying attention. The second barrier being, although students were aware of the audit going on, it was not preventing them from over-filling their plates and therefore still throwing out too much food. Lastly, the dining halls only recommend that students separate their trash during the week of the waste audit. Which means every other week of the year all the waste goes into one bag without being sorted.

Yes, the food audit was measuring the amount of food waste, but what was it doing to actually prevent students from wasting food?

The WVU dining services website has a section on sustainability. In this section it states, “here is a growing list of steps we’ve taken to shrink our negative environmental footprint and model sustainable corporate dining.” The list shows that the only serious effort to cut back on food waste is the transition to tray-less dining. The removal of trays from dining halls has lead to a cut back on food waste, according to the dining services office, but isn’t there more that can be done?

The university clearly cares and wants to start an initiative of using this waste as a source to produce renewable energy and compost. This quote from WVUToday highlights the progressive effort by the university.

“In addition, we will be looking at the feasibility of combining the wastes from our campus food system with the organic wastes generated on our local university farms to fuel a digester that could produce renewable energy and compost. I commend Dr. Solomon for his efforts in helping our campus to become a model for sustainable practices.” – Tim Phibbs, Davis College. 

Beyond the university, it starts with accountability, and students need to be more conscientious of the amount of food they take. With a collective initiative to cut back on the amount of food students take at one time, the amount of waste the university yields could be cut dramatically. Or perhaps, the problem will just solve itself. With the ability to use Mountie Bounty at various locations across town, and the construction of Evansdale Crossings, dining hall numbers are down and perhaps will become obsolete within the next few years anyway.