Thoughtful about food

Wake Forest’s Office of Sustainability is experimenting with ways to reduce food waste as part of the University’s overall efforts to lessen its environmental footprint. An organic waste recycling system that works as a dehydrator and offers a compostable solution for food waste is one possible solution.

Approximately 1.2 tons of food waste accumulates daily on the Reynolda campus — much of which usually ends up in the landfill. But a pilot project launched this year is evaluating the benefits of a new dehydrator that allows food waste to be reused. Though dehydrating food waste is more common in Europe and Asia where most industrial countries actively seek landfill alternatives, Wake Forest is the first in the nation to test this technology on a college campus.

The organic waste reduction machine reduces food waste volume by as much as 75 percent and weight by as much as 90 percent. Food scraps go into the machine and a stable and sterile reusable material comes out. Removing the moisture from the waste makes it possible to store the byproduct until it’s time to blend it with other compostable materials, like urban yard waste. The combined materials can then be used for landscaping and gardening.

The byproduct is being tested in the campus garden, where soil quality is measured. The campus garden, a combination research garden and food garden, supplements the Campus Kitchen program with fresh, seasonal foods. Campus Kitchen is a student-led service program that feeds hungry people in the community using cooked but never-served food from the campus dining facilities.

Another initiative reduces waste by repurposing coffee grounds. Landscaping services staff are incorporating nutrient rich, used coffee grounds directly into the soil enrichment process. “If we’re going to think about reducing our landfill waste to nearly zero, we have to think about the most efficient and effective ways to re-use products that end up in the waste stream,” says sustainability director Dedee DeLongpré Johnston.

In 2009, Wake Forest removed trays from its buffet-service venues to encourage low-waste dining. The move saves 900 gallons of water a day, but it also encourages people to think about the amount of food they are taking. There’s less food waste because people bring less to the table.

The sustainability office is also working with the campus dining service provider, ARAMARK, to fulfill other sustainability-related goals, such as incorporating more locally grown and processed foods and sustainable proteins into meals. “In order to support farmers who raise cattle and other animals for the regional food system,” DeLongpré Johnston says, “we need to think creatively about serving many cuts of meat. A steer is comprised of much more than hamburger.”

Categories: Life on Campus, Student, Sustainability, Top Stories