Senior Tori Wong’s eyes were wide with surprise as a volunteer pointed out an uneaten burrito in the tray of recently discarded food.
“Are you serious?” Wong said. “Last week there was a whole slice of pizza, a burger and a whole salad. It’s really ridiculous how much people are wasting.”
Wong, an officer in the Ecology Club and UMW’s Sustainability Coordinator, organized the annual food waste survey, where she worked with student volunteers collecting discarded food at Seacobeck during dinner on two consecutive Wednesdays to illustrate how much food is wasted in the dining hall.
When she started the survey her freshman year, Wong was doing it in order to bring composting to UMW. Although that didn’t work out, she continued with the survey as an effort to educate students.
“We were blown away by how much food we were wasting,” she said.
They set up the uneaten food in trays in the Dome Room of Seacobeck with the weight of each tray and its contents displayed for everyone who walks by to see.
“Everyone’s really grossed out [when they see the food], which is good,” Wong said. “If I’m not throwing it at them, they’re not gonna see it.”
The 2011 food waste survey yielded an average of 112 pounds of wasted food, half of what it was in the 2009 survey.
With over 200 pounds of wasted food on any given night, Wong and UMW Dining Services realized it was time to make a change.
“Two years ago we got rid of trays [in Seacobeck] and we’ve seen such a significant decrease in food waste,” said Wong.
In order to get that number even lower in the future, Wong proposed that Seacobeck start using smaller plates. On a recent trip to George Mason University, she met with members of the GMU sustainability council who said they’ve seen a notable decrease in food wastes since switching to smaller plates because students were getting smaller portions at meals.
In addition to small tangible changes, such as eliminating trays and using smaller plates, Wong stressed the importance of increasing awareness.
According to the Sodexo Stop Hunger Initiative, 26 million tons of food are wasted each year, accounting for 12 percent of all landfill weight. Additionally, every person generates 1.3 pounds of food waste daily.
“It’s important to realize your impact on the world around you and realize our resources aren’t unlimited,” said sophomore Anna Smith who volunteered with the food waste survey.
Smith and sophomore Sam Corron stood by the food disposal areas in Seacobeck for both nights of the survey, gathering the plates of food from students at the completion of their meals.
“I just hope they see the sheer magnitude [of the waste,” said Corron. “[When we tell students about the survey], they try to explain why they didn’t eat […] We take a lot for granted.”
Recently, UMW Dining Services became “Certified Virginia Green,” according to Marketing Director Lyndsay Geyer. This means they recycle waste in the dining halls, buy from local vendors when possible and work to conserve energy in their facilities.
Geyer’s primary goal as Marketing Specialist is to raise awareness of various Dining Services events and promote the Virginia Green standards.
On April 5 Dining Services is holding a health fair in the Dome Room. There will be 15 vendors in attendance promoting health and wellness on campus.