Typical student griping aside, the C.I.’s food is too good to just throw away. This year, the amount of food wasted plate by plate in the C.I. was under scrutiny for the first time in several years. During the week of March 1, members of the Sustainability Club, Food Recovery Network and the ASWC affiliated Environmental Committee collected and measured bucket upon bucket of student leftovers in a comprehensive food audit of the C.I. The results show that students, faculty and staff eating in the C.I. are wasting on average about 3 ounces of food per meal.
For reference, a 3 oz. piece of chicken (a single serving) would be about the size of your palm. While this may not look like a lot on your plate, the combination of all the waste is quite significant. Following the USDA conversion of 1.2 pounds of food to a single meal, the total 150 pounds of solid food collected by the auditors in just a single mealtime in the C.I. could supply about 125 meals to the hungry.
“This excess that we’re currently seeing in meals and lifestyles is not sustainable,” McMurray said. In hopes of changing this, the club plans on creating and publicizing a comprehensive chart of the reported data in order to raise awareness of the food waste. “To make people visually aware while they’re in the CI to monitor food waste,” she said.
The volunteers conducted their first collection behind the scenes in the C.I. dishroom to measure a baseline sample. The students and faculty, including Associate Professor of Sociology sal johnston, filled six 25-pound buckets of solid waste and five gallons of liquid waste. Averaged out across the 607 discarded plates that this waste came from, the data-crunchers came to an average of 3.16 ounces of waste per meal — 2.47 ounces of solid waste and .69 ounces of liquid waste.
The second waste collection was performed publicly in the dining hall, which McMurray believes impacted the end result by making diners more mindful of their waste. The data from this collection reports five buckets of approximately 25-pounds of solid waste and nine gallons of liquid waste. This averages the 677 dinners to 3.01 ounces of waste each — 1.9 ounces of solid waste and 1.11 ounces of liquid waste.
This type of intensive waste measurement program has not taken place for several years. According to sophomore Maddie McMurray, head of the Environmental Committee and Co-Vice President of the Sustainability Club, data logged from the last audit reported that the average student wasted five ounces of food per meal. “The scale of that is ridiculous,” McMurray said. Around that time, the C.I. revamped its system and implemented the plate system that students are familiar with today. Since then, today’s numbers have improved by two ounces per plate. But while McMurray admits that this is indeed an improvement, the lack of a follow-up audit to raise awareness may have stagnated further efforts toward conservation in subsequent years.
While the data from this year’s audit has come late in the semester, McMurray believes it has the potential to set a tone for the next semester. “We’re really pushing for Whittier to recognize that waste comes in multiple forms,” McMurray said. “I think when a lot of people think of waste they think of wrappers and garbage and you don’t think of waste being actually food you haven’t consumed.”