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Key Objective: 5.4 Reduce Food Scraps
The iCAP 2020, objective 5.4 is: “Promote food scraps reduction on campus through a behavior change campaign, and tracking and recovery of surplus food for donation, with at least five new areas tracking and reporting their food waste by FY22.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is F&S. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Reduce Foodwaste.
Food scraps comprise a significant portion of the university’s total landfilled waste. But just how much food is thrown out on campus in a given week, semester, or year?
In 2014, a Baseline Waste Stream Characterization Study prepared by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) revealed that organic and compostable materials (including food scraps) ranked consistently as the first- and second-highest waste categories in the buildings examined. The report detailed waste production in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, Henry Administration Building, Swanlund Administration Building, and Illini Union Bookstore, and found that “food scraps, food soiled paper, paper towels, and other compostable items constituted a significant portion of the waste from these buildings. For these four buildings alone, the organics segment accounts for 17.2 tons annually.”
Currently, University Housing is the only unit on campus independently tracking how food scraps factor into waste production; these efforts have been effective and well-received, and exemplify the impact of metrics on waste reduction. Housing uses a program called Leanpath to track all pre- and post-consumer food waste in dining units. By using the cloud-based software to digitally weigh food waste and target “problem areas,” dining halls have dramatically reduced pre-consumer food waste (e.g., surplus food, spoiled ingredients, or scraps resulting from food preparation). Housing also uses an extension of this program, Leanpath Spark, to measure post-consumer waste (e.g., leftovers) and educate customers on how they can make a positive impact.
Many facilities responsible for food production and distribution do not have tracking systems in place. As with many of the iCAP objectives, a preliminary step to ensure informed decision-making involves gathering the appropriate data. We will begin tracking food waste (by weight) from self-operated campus food services that do not already do so (e.g., Bevier Café, campus coffee shops, and in-institute cafés like Beckman Café, Array Café in IGB, and Latté Da! Café in Lincoln Hall).
Units with contracted food services (e.g., Athletics and the Illini Union) are expected to include stipulations for tracking food waste in new or renewed contracts. These stipulations may require modification to conform to grab-and-go dining (e.g., Memorial Stadium concessions).
In addition to introducing waste-tracking policies to self-operated and contracted food distributors, we hope to encourage greater food waste consciousness among campus consumers: the students, faculty members, staff, and visitors who take advantage of these services daily. We plan to launch a creative campaign to spread awareness of food waste issues. The three-pronged campaign will 1) offer relevant statistics about on-campus and global food waste; 2) provide actionable steps by encouraging activities like zero-waste lunches; and 3) motivate participants to make a difference by directing them to a food donation webpage. When people stop for their morning coffee, to-go lunch, or late-night study snack, we hope that they do so thoughtfully and with consideration of their environmental impact.
By FY24, we anticipate a 30% reduction of food scraps in areas that begin tracking food waste. Once the program is running in numerous campus locations, we can partner with local businesses to encourage food waste tracking and prevention.