December 17, 2018

Student organizations, Dining & Catering work to raise awareness of food waste, sustainable eating practices

Erase the Waste educational display at Windsor Dining Court Students set up a display at Windsor Dining Court to raise student awareness of food waste and promote more sustainable dining habits as part of the Erase the Waste campaign. (Photo provided) Download image

Student organizations recently partnered with Purdue Dining & Catering to raise student awareness of food waste and promote more sustainable dining habits.

Known as Erase the Waste, the five-week campaign featured events and themed displays to educate Boilermakers on sustainable food practices. Displays included educational materials on portion sizes, general food waste and how changing eating habits can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint. The project was the result of collaboration between students from Boiler Green Initiative, part of the Purdue Student Sustainability Council, and students in the Global to Local Climate Policy class taught by Linda Prokopy, professor of natural resources social science. 

Each of Purdue’s five residential dining courts featured educational displays produced by student groups during the campaign, which took place Oct. 15-Nov. 16.

“These students approached us about working with them on pushing plant-based foods and other ways to help the environment,” says Kari Glebe, director of residential dining. “This initiative provides peer education for students on how they can be part of the solution to reducing food waste in our campus dining locations.”

One of the key aspects of Erase The Waste was a “food scrape,” which took place in Wiley and Ford dining courts. During the food scrape, student volunteers directed dining court guests to separate waste into edible and inedible products. The volunteers then weighed the edible product that was being thrown away. During a two-hour period during lunch, 130 pounds of food waste was collected from Ford and 125 pounds was gathered in Wiley. 

Bruno Sanchez-Ortiz spearheaded the efforts of Erase the Waste from the Boiler Green Initiative. Michelle Hemler and Silenze Esquivel Benjamin, students in the Global to Local Climate Policy class taught by Prokopy, provided more education on carbon dioxide emissions in food production processes.

“The issue of carbon dioxide was the initiator into the whole process,” says Sanchez-Ortiz, a junior majoring in civil engineering. “I quite often see people throwing away at least half of a plate full of edible food. It’s that scene or image that sparked the idea of having the five-week campaign.”

The problems posed by carbon dioxide emissions were the focus of the awareness initiative presented by Hemler and Esquivel Benjamin. According to data the two displayed outside Windsor Dining Court, carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of beef are nearly three times that of the second-highest group of foods. According to the data, eating one vegetarian meal per week can save the equivalent of 1,160 driving miles of carbon emissions.

“The goal is raising awareness for students about what they eat,” Esquivel Benjamin, a natural resources and environmental science major, says of the data. “Maybe they’ll choose to eat pork instead of beef and start to decrease their consumption of those higher carbon dioxide emission-heavy waste foods.”

“With tabling, we want to see what people think about the science and their response,” says Hemler, a second-year master’s student studying natural resources social science. “From that, we can determine whether people want more vegetarian or less carbon-intense options.”

All groups associated with the Erase the Waste campaign used pledge sheets to encourage students to practice more sustainable eating habits. A pledge could be as simple as substituting beans for meat for a meal or two per week.

“A change can be something as simple as eating all the food on your plate and considering eating less meat,” says Sanchez-Ortiz. “I know it sounds super simple, but that’s how simple a solution could be to this problem.”

The Purdue Student Sustainability Council promotes economic responsibility, environmental stewardship and social justice. The organization partners with on-campus and community organizations to engage the Purdue student body in these issues. Boiler Green Initiative focuses on sustainability projects on campus, which also include focuses in recycling and storm water management.

Purdue Dining & Catering’s mission is to nourish and inspire the Purdue community. The organization embraces a focus on co-curricular education and leadership development as an integral part of the Purdue experience.

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