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Sustainability Efforts Connect College Students

Dining services departments across the country are finding new ways to manage waste and conserve resources, and those that work with Land O’Lakes Foodservice are no exception.

auther_image by Land O'Lakes 07/23/2019

At Land O’Lakes, being more sustainable is a guiding principle. It’s important to our leadership team, our farmer-owners and our employees. 
 
Likewise, at colleges and universities across the country, operating more sustainably across campus is no longer optional. It’s expected from students, faculty, administrators and the greater community. For example, dining services departments and students at two of the schools we work with — Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, Georgia — have made concerted efforts to enhance their use of resources. As a result, processes have evolved, behaviors have changed and students have noticed. Here’s a brief look at some of those efforts.

Measuring campus food and water waste

UGA Dining Services, working with the Office of Sustainability, wanted to see if eliminating trays from dining halls would encourage diners to take only the food they could easily carry and cut down on food waste. So they collected data on plate waste over a two-week period. The first week, trays were provided as usual in Snelling Dining Commons, and plate waste coming through the tray return was measured by volume and weight. The second week, trays were removed from Snelling and the same measurements were taken. The water meter was also monitored to see how water use was affected with no trays to wash.
 
At the end of the testing period, there was a 26.7% reduction in plate waste and a 16.4% reduction in water use during the week without trays. Reduction across all five of UGA’s Dining Commons resulted in 107,142 pounds of food and 16,550 gallons of water being saved per semester.

Encouraging on-campus composting

Following the study, UGA Dining Services decided to make changes in the way post-consumer waste was handled in its Dining Commons. Compostable paper straws took the place of plastic ones. Tea bags without staples were introduced. Condiment packets were replaced by pump bottles.
 
Now waste goes to the school’s Bioconversion Center, where it is composted and used in landscaping applications across campus. “We have diverted tons of waste from our local landfill,” says Bryan Varin, executive director of UGA Dining Services. “We were really happy that we were able to do that.” UGA also worked with its on-campus retail locations to eliminate all single-use plastic bags as well as its own UGA-branded plastic bags.
 
It seems that there’s no end in sight to advancing on-campus sustainability. “I keep telling myself that at some point we’re going to run out of things to do,” says Varin. “But we haven’t yet.”

Asking students questions about waste

At Cornell, student sustainability coordinators routinely monitor personal food waste, going into residential dining units to measure plate waste and talk with students. “We want to discover why people are discarding the food they’re discarding,” says Therese O’Connor, assistant director for staff training and development for Cornell University Dining. “But we also want to keep track of waste issues from a culinary perspective. This enables us to give feedback to our chefs as far as the particular kinds of food items or flavors that aren’t being consumed.”

Giving plastic bottles the boot on campus

Cornell participates in Take Back the Tap (TBTT) — a national student-led campaign to reduce the use of bottled water on college and university campuses. So far, bottled water sales at campus convenience stores and community centers have decreased by about 25% in the past few years. All incoming Cornell students receive reusable bottles. Many existing drinking fountains have been upgraded with bottle fillers, and they’ll be included in all new campus buildings and renovations.
 
“Our student sustainability coordinators work as liaisons between Dining Services and many of our student sustainability groups,” says O’Connor. “They’ve worked with the students involved in TBTT to explore options for reducing plastic water bottles on campus as well as on coordinating awareness campaigns.”

Sustainability efforts at Land O’Lakes, Inc.

Like our college and university foodservice partners, Land O’Lakes, Inc. has made a significant commitment to helping farmers enhance their sustainability practices as well as improving our own resource management.
 
One of the ways we support on-farm sustainability is through our Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN™ business. Through this avenue, we work with farmers to manage production risk and field vulnerability through the use of conservation practices, facilitating long-term production capacity. This is just one of several benefits realized by farmers who work with Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN.
 
In Land O’Lakes Foodservice specifically, we’re introducing more environmentally friendly packaging options. We’re also committed to developing recipes and menu ideas that use one product in multiple ways — increasing options for you while reducing food and packaging waste. We’re striving to develop new ways to be more sustainable and want to improve our efforts every day.
 
Check back for more ideas and inspiration from college and university operators. And be sure to visit our college and university page for products, recipes and menu ideas from Land O’Lakes Foodservice that can help you start the school year strong.

Learn more and be Inspired

Explore our resources page and find videos, articles and more that will help ensure your professional kitchen remains a success.

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