Food waste is a growing problem, with more than $160 billion worth of food being thrown away annually in the United States. St. Norbert College decided to help reverse that trend by making significant changes to its dining services program to prevent food waste from winding up in the trash.
The program has turned out to be so successful that serving more than 2,200 meals to students and guests at the college’s dining facility has led to creating less than one garbage bag of food waste. Reducing food waste is important because when food reaches a landfill, it rots and becomes a source of methane, a greenhouse gas.
The college accomplished the feat by preventing the creation of waste in the first place. Through calculated menu engineering, dining services prepares only the meals it needs. When waste is produced, the school finds another purpose for it: salad waste goes to local animal farms; a food waste dehydrator creates compost for the St. Norbert campus; and other food waste goes to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh biodigester plant, which produces enough electricity to supply 10 percent of the university’s power needs.
When SNC does have extra meals, they are donated to Freedom House, a local homeless shelter for families.
Through the initiative, SNC reduced food waste by 44 percent in the first year, preventing 30,000 pounds of food waste from reaching local landfills and saving $43,850. Another startling fact: The college’s trash compactor, which used to be emptied every four weeks, is now emptied just twice a year.
The changes have not affected the SNC dining services program’s reputation of having high-quality food. It was voted as having the best college food in Wisconsin and ranked ninth in the nation for food quality.