Aramark Dining Services and several student organizations (The Green Society, The Movement and Roadrunners for Renewable Resources) have taken steps to increase awareness of food waste with their initiative, Weigh the Waste.
Aramark Sustainability Coordinator Haley Diamond describes the purpose of the Weigh the Waste project as a demonstration to show students how much food is wasted. Diamond states that the problem is not unique to UTSA and the local community but is relevant on a global scale. According to the National Resource Defense Council, Americans waste 40 percent of the food supply annually.
The Roadrunner Café, a buffet-style restaurant on campus, is an ideal location to facilitate Weigh the Waste and measure a sample of food waste produced by students at UTSA. Students who are on meal plans provided by Aramark frequently stop by the café between classes. Inside the restaurant, students drop off unfinished food by the dishwashing station with the rest of their dishes. Weigh the Waste volunteers collect the leftover food from students and compile the waste into a clear bucket so that students may leave the café with some understanding of how much food they waste. Student volunteers collect waste from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. for lunch and from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on a weekly basis. More than 50 pounds of waste is collected during the lunch hour, showcasing an incredible visual of how much waste is accumulated daily. Students are disgusted and surprised when they see the waste compiled over time by other students.
High amounts of waste also impede Aramark’s charity program to deliver packaged food to the San Antonio Food Bank, a philanthropic effort to avoid the expiration of foods in storage. But according to Diamond, the students who request and accept servings of food that they cannot finish can hinder these donations. “If a chef has to unwrap a tray of chicken to serve one student, that entire tray of chicken is no longer allowed to be donated to the SA Food Bank,” claims Diamond. This limits Aramark’s donating power.
Another approach to sustainability that students can exercise is the Eco To-Go option which allows students to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner and pack it into a portable, green container. This allows students more flexibility to not only choose where they can eat, but when they want to eat, without having to worry about food waste.
Responses to Weigh the Waste range from full support to disgust and frustration by students at the sight of the wasted food. Volunteers who participated in the project experienced hostility from students. Victoria Steele, senior public relations director for the Student Government Association was shocked that “people would throw away food and get seconds,” even after seeing how much food was wasted.
Participants involved with the project continue to make strides to increase awareness of food waste. Weigh the Waste has existed for two years, but the difficulty in educating students on these issues lies in the reality that, with a new set of students each semester, relationships between students and their understanding of food waste are hard to build.
Due to the high volume, the waste also becomes difficult to manage. This is a problem that extends far beyond the capabilities of Aramark Dining Services and the participating registered student organizations. “Just because it is all you can eat doesn’t mean you have to fill your plate every time and waste food,” Diamond expresses. She continues by adding, “while you’re not being charged for the food you waste, it is important for students to realize that it is still making a big impact on the cost of their meal plans.” The difficulty brought forth by the excess food waste has preventedAramark from lowering the cost of meal plans in order to compensate for the growing food waste.
While Weigh the Waste has shown how much food is being wasted, the on-campus dining service has come to the conclusion that any significant change must come from a collective student demand.