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Junior Lauren Burkett (left) and senior Kristen Mathieson (right) are members of Nutrition and Dietetics Club at UD.
Junior Lauren Burkett (left) and senior Kristen Mathieson (right) are members of Nutrition and Dietetics Club at UD.

Combating food waste

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, courtesy of Jennifer Linton and UD Dining Services

UD students, faculty and Dining Services pitch in to fight waste, hunger

Food waste is an extremely frustrating concept. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately 40 percent of food in the U.S. is never eaten; simultaneously, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table.

The state of Delaware is no exception, so University of Delaware students, faculty and staff are pitching in to combat food waste. We highlight their efforts during National Nutrition Month and its 2018 theme “Go Further with Food.”

UD students

The student-run Nutrition and Dietetics Club at UD is educating the Newark and surrounding communities on food waste and insecurity.

“Making people aware of food waste is the first step in preventing it,” said UD senior Sarah Russel. “I personally decided to get involved with the club to extend my knowledge outside of class and into the Delaware community.”

Edible food waste found in a grocery store dumpster in Dover, DE.
Edible food waste found in a grocery store dumpster in Dover, DE.

The group will set up shop at Trabant Kiosk A throughout the month of March, providing education on topics such as smarter grocery buying, planning leftovers and portion sizes.

The Food Recovery Network, another student-run organization, carries the goal of reducing food waste by collecting excess food from the dining halls and donating the food to local food pantries. The students hold multiple food drives each semester; for Thanksgiving, these Blue Hens collected more than 200 pounds of canned goods.

“Food insecurity and food waste are major issues in our country and across the world,” said sophomore dietetics student Nicole Boylan. “These issues overlap with nutrition as an inability to access food and maintain an adequate diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies and many other health issues.”

UD faculty

Behavioral Health & Nutrition (BHAN) instructor Kristin Wiens teaches Sustainability and Food, a course that discusses strategies to shrink your personal food footprint such as reducing food and packaging waste. In the Food & Nutrition Education Lab in Willard Hall, Wiens lays out leftover food and items close to their “use by” date for the students to take home.

UD Dining Services’ BioHiTech Aerobic Digesters help divert thousands of pounds of food from landfill each day.
UD Dining Services’ BioHiTech Aerobic Digesters help divert thousands of pounds of food from landfill each day.

When The Tower at STAR Campus opens this fall, Wiens will help run the Demonstration Kitchen — a unique experiential learning space that doubles as a catering kitchen. In addition to classes, the space will host community members for sessions on topics like sustainability.

Wiens is also working with the Mike Popovich (College of Agriculture & Natural Resources) on the UD Farm. In addition to sourcing ingredients from the farm for classes, Wiens and Popovich collaborate on a farm-to-table healthy recipe video series showcasing seasonal produce grown on campus.  

“We have people who are hungry. We have extra food. But the two things aren’t connecting to help solve the problem,” Wiens said.

BHAN adjunct professor Jennifer Linton is extremely active in nonprofit circles, working with groups like the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen. A few years ago, she started calling restaurants to ask about their excess food. Most said they threw food away out of fear of being sued. Concerned about this issue, Linton began investigating federal legislation and discovered the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act; it encourages donation of excess food to non-profit organizations for distribution to individuals in need and protects organizations from liability when donating to a non-profit. The Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 later built on this legislation, encouraging federal agencies to donate excess food.

Many large organizations have systems in place to put excess food to good use compared to smaller entities. For example, Sam’s Club works with Feeding America to rescue food from stores and redirect it to families facing hunger.  

“Most businesses don’t know about these laws, know who to give to, or even consider donating,” said Linton.

Linton points to educating business owners on the donation legislation and looking at how other countries and cities are addressing the food waste issue.

France passed a law in 2016 that, if a store throws out food, it can be prosecuted. According to a recent NPR story, stores can be fined $4,500 for each infraction. While the law has gone through growing pains towards effectiveness, Linton said it’s an important step in the right direction.

She would also like to see the establishment of organizations like Philabundance in Delaware.  

Philabundance, Linton said, is “doing everything to combat food waste including gleaning (harvesting leftover crops and produce from fields and orchards). As individuals we can do our part to help prevent food waste — not over-purchasing food and donating excess food to local pantries.”

UD Dining Services

UD Dining Services is combating food waste via its sustainability platform “Green Thread.” In partnership with Aramark, it weaves waste minimization into Dining Services across all 16 on-campus dining locations.

“As we help to minimize food waste, there are efforts our guests can take like being mindful of portion sizes and only filling your plate with amounts that are right for you,” said Debra Miller, Dining Services’ registered dietician.

Each semester, Dining Services partners with the Food Recovery Network. Since last spring semester, over 500 pounds of unused food has been recovered and donated to local, community food pantries.

UD Dining Services reduces, reuses and recycles throughout the food production and service processes. Examples include:

  • The Caesar Rodney Dining Fresh Food Company breaks down and diverts food waste from landfills through two mechanical bio-digesters, averting potent greenhouse gas emissions

  • All locations participate in the University’s single-stream recycling program, as well as Recyclemania

  • Perishable food is donated to the Food Bank of Delaware

  • Dining locations collect and recycle used cooking oil

About Community Engagement

The University of Delaware cultivates civic-minded, engaged citizens through partnerships that impact communities’ needs. Community-based experiences are woven into UD’s teaching, research and service activities where students, faculty and staff apply knowledge and creativity to the critical challenges facing communities — in Delaware and around the world. In 2015, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized this commitment, designating UD as a community engaged university, an honor awarded to less than 10% of U.S. colleges and universities. 


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