UC campuses take on challenge to reduce food waste

Eight UC campuses are taking on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Challenge to reduce food waste by five percent during this coming year.

According to the EPA, the main goal of the challenge is to reduce 33 million tons of food waste the U.S. sends to landfills each year. They will achieve this through smarter food purchasing, increasing donations to charities and composting spoiled food.

“Food waste is a particular problem for California, the world’s fifth largest food supplier, because of the enormous quantities of water and energy required for production,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement. “EPA is proud to partner with these universities as they commit to support the environment and their community by reducing food waste.”

The participating campuses are Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. The University of California (UC) campuses are among 50 universities nationwide that are participating in the challenge.

A kickoff event for the challenge was held on Nov. 15, which was America Recycles Day 2012. The challenge is a part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.7 percent of national energy consumption is directed toward producing and distributing food. Landfills are the source of one-fifth of our nation’s methane emissions because food in landfills produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.

The UC system’s policy on sustainable practices includes reducing food waste. They already implement this through composting, recycling, food donations and education.

“We’re going to use the challenge as another education opportunity for students, staff and faculty,” said Dani Lee, sustainability manager for the UC Davis Dining Services.

UC campuses have already implemented food waste programs. One such program is trayless dining, which reduces the amount of food people take so that less goes to waste. This program has already seen a 50 percent reduction in food waste.

The EPA offers assistance to help each campus reach their goals. The highest performing campuses are eligible for recognition and press.

“Many campuses can save money by buying only what they will use and composting instead of landfilling,” said Saskia Van Gendt and Laura Moreno, sustainable materials specialists at the EPA, in an email interview. “Food waste reduction software, for example, is saving some campuses more than $1,000 per week in avoided food costs.”

Van Gendt and Moreno said students can help start or join a campus program to reduce food waste through food donations or composting on campus. Student-led programs across the country have helped universities reach their goals of reducing the amount of food they send to landfills.

Other participants in this challenge include grocers and entertainment venues such as Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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