When eating in the dining centers, students may be unaware of how much food they are wasting when they dump their trays at the end of every meal.
Monday night, Kelly Whitehair, instructor in the College of Human Ecology, gave a presentation on campus-wide food waste in Kramer Dining Center called “REthink: REduce, REuse, REcycle” as part of the K-State First program.
According to Whitehair, the university dumps approximately 3.6 million tons of waste per year, 10 to 20 percent of which is food that people can still eat.
In a study conducted in the 1990s, the Derby Dining Center threw away more than 167,000 pounds of food waste. Now, that figure is even higher.
“Right now, Derb feeds about 30-40 percent more than they did in the ’90s,” Whitehair said. “Think about how much edible food is thrown away now.”
Whitehair first became interested in conducting food waste research when she worked at the Van Zile Dining Center. She and several others began asking students if they could mark their tray and have answer a short survey.
“Previous studies gave me an average,” Whitehair said. “I didn’t want to know an estimate. I wanted to know how much each student was throwing away.”
Approximately 540 students eat in the Van Zile Dining Center, 40 percent of whom consented to have their trays marked and participate in Whitehair’s survey. When students finished eating and sent their trays to the kitchen, dining center staff set them aside for Whitehair and her team to weigh the remaining food.
On average, the students left about 2 ounces of food waste on their trays, adding up to 1.5 tons of food thrown out during the course of a week. However, one-third of the students had next to no food waste on their trays, which meant that many more students wasted a lot more.
“When you throw away food, it breaks down in a bad way in the dump,” Whitehair said. “It produces a bad form of methane from the way it breaks down.”
Whitehair saw that K-State could become a more eco-friendly and sustainable campus and realized she had the opportunity to help.
“I wanted something that made the students think it was their idea,” Whitehair said. “You can initiate the change and make it your idea because it is.”
Whitehair decided to keep it simple: she made a poster with the slogan: “All taste … no waste.” Later, after the posters had been circulated around the dining center, Whitehair came back and saw a 15 percent decrease in food waste.
“The main point is to get the word out and get everyone involved,” Whitehair said.
Monday night’s presentation was part of a K-State First Initiative called Beyond the Classroom, where students can connect and learn about important issues outside of class.
“We try to focus our topics around our dynamic faculty,” said Laura Foote, assistant coordinator for K-State First. “We wanted to tie in with the bigger university recycling and Earth Day programs.”
In addition to the presentation, students from Marlatt and Goodnow halls competed in a recycling challenge, in which students went through the two halls and picked up all the recyclables they could within 15 minutes.
“This was really fun,” said Kendal Hardinger, sophomore in open option and resident of Goodnow Hall. “It was all about seeing the things you throw away and how much people are recycling and how much that can amount to.”
Although both teams brought many bags of recycling back, Goodnow Hall won, based on the quality and quantity of recyclables.
“I think this opened the eyes of the students who came here,” said Joey Thomas, junior in human resources and general management and resident of Goodnow Hall.