December Weigh the Waste events brings in one pound of edible food waste per minute

By Eco Ambassador Katie Koenig

On December 7, the Eco Ambassadors worked with the dining hall to set up tables with large, labeled bins to collect all the waste from that evening’s dinner period. Eco Ambassadors worked the tables, directing waste into organized categories, both to encourage dining-goers to properly dispose of their waste and to weigh the amount of waste collected in each category.

A scale was set up off to the side, so that when the bins got full, their weight could be measured. Lots of people came up, some just to ask about the event, even without any waste to dispose of. Some had nearly full plates they threw away, while others had a single, lonely napkin.

Weigh the Waste was intended to help Campus Services and Bon Appetit quantify the amount of food waste produced in an average, bustling mealtime. The goal is to improve waste practices from one of the major sources of compost on campus. An additional, tallied survey also gave us information on an individual’s general causes for having that waste.

During the hour and a half time chunk from 6:30pm to 8pm on Wednesday, the bins filled up very quickly, especially the edible compost bin. By the time we had weighed the waste and calculated out the weight of the bins themselves, we were astonished to discover that we had accumulated a total of 107.4 pounds of waste in just that short time period. 89 pounds of that was edible compost — food that still could be eaten, like a slice of pizza, or a partial plate of pasta.

Taking into account the number of students that swiped their IDs to get into the dining hall during that time, that number means that, on average, a single person threw away over two ounces of food, or 0.13 lbs. On average, if we split the amount of edible waste by time, an entire pound of food was thrown away every single minute—that’s as much as an average-sized jar of peanut butter, or an entire bag of coffee beans!

In contrast, trash was a measly 5 pounds, and inedible and liquid compost—things like napkins, banana peels, and other objects that go in the compost but can’t be eaten—made up just 13.4 pounds.

Looking towards the future, our goal is to improve signage and increase education about where the dining hall waste goes, both in terms of sorting it by trash, recycling, and compost, and farther out into waste management plants and water treatment plants. With time, and with more Weigh the Waste events in the future to track Emerson’s progress with waste management, we hope to reduce dining hall waste—and students’ waste practices—to almost nothing!

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