Dining & Catering wins association's Gold Award in sustainability

June 10, 2013  

The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) recently named Purdue Dining & Catering, a division of Housing and Food Services, the winner of a Gold Award for Energy and Water Conservation. The award recognizes several initiatives promoting sustainability.

Those initiatives, implemented at Purdue beginning in 2009 as part of the "New Synergies" strategic plan, include a partnership that keeps food waste from Purdue's residential dining facilities out of landfills by sending it to the anaerobic digester at the West Lafayette Wastewater Treatment Utility. There it is converted to methane gas used to power the facility.

"This award is the result of many efforts put forth by both current and past leaders within Housing and Food Services and Purdue. It is reflective of Purdue Dining & Catering's commitment to this community and the footprint we create within it," says Greg Minner, director of dining. "These practices impact many aspects of all dining operations on campus." While creating these processes, staff also developed relationships across campus, in the community and all over the nation. "We are constantly learning and implementing best practices and will continue to seek ways to improve our efforts in sustainability."

Other actions under the strategic plan that are noted in the award materials:

* Removal of fryer oil and other grease byproducts. Increased production of biodiesel fuel has made it possible to sell these items. Before 2010, the annual expense to have food oil and grease hauled away was $7,000 per year. Total annual revenue for used fryer oil in 2010-12 was about $42,000. Fourteen and a half tons of fryer oil were diverted in the fiscal year ending June 2012.

* Tray-free dining in two locations, instituted in August 2012 after a pilot in all five dining courts. This practice reduces washing costs, decreases tray waste about 50 percent and makes diners more aware of responsible healthy eating choices.

* A partnership with a Food Finders Food Bank to send all leftover reusable/safe food items to help families in need and to reduce food waste in the landfill stream. During fall 2012, a total of 23,363 pounds of food was diverted from the landfill to the food bank. This volume is equivalent to 17,971 meals, but it was less than 0.5 percent of the total food consumed on campus during that period. 

* Cardboard balers to enable efficient recycling. Balers were installed as dining courts were built or remodeled. Baled cardboard is sold and generates revenue. In fiscal 2012, about 136 tons of cardboard from residential dining operations were baled and recycled.

* Reusable bottles and bags for students on board plans. In fall 2010, each of the roughly 6,000 freshmen on a dining plan received a reusable bottle to use in On-the-GO! and retail operations. The initiative was expanded and in 2011, and in 2012 Dining & Catering distributed reusable bottles along with reusable bags for all 10,000-plus students on board plans. Signs are posted to remind students that if they use their reusable bottles in On-the-GO!, their drinks are free. If they use them in retail operations, the cost is 69 cents. This popular program has cut use of plastic bags in carryout operations about 90 percent.

In the food waste program with West Lafayette's utility, benefits have increased in each of the first three years, 2010-12. In 2012, the arrangement diverted 455 tons of food waste from the landfill. Tipping fees to the University decreased by $20,475. The waste matter was used to generate 795,937 kilowatts of energy, resulting in a savings of $55,715.57. Currently, the food waste provides the fuel to generate about 20 percent of the power needs for that facility. A "Boiler Bytes" segment from late 2009, when the program began, is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rffwhFiGPA.

Minner and other staff members will accept the award at the NACUFS National Conference on July 10-13 in Minneapolis.

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