How and Why to Reduce Campus Food Waste

The following post is written by Alec Pedigo, a student majoring in Science, Technology, & Society. Alec is currently an intern with the NC State Waste Reduction and Recycling Office.

Have you ever wondered what happens to leftover food from the dining halls?

There’s a lot happening behind the scenes at NC State Dining to reduce food waste before campus customers even have the opportunity to fill their plates.

“The first way to reduce waste is by only making the food that we need,” said Dining’s Director of Operations Keith Smith. “We cook in small batches. If there’s food that hasn’t been out on the line, then we’ll pull that back and use it [later] if possible. We also connect with the [student organization] Food Recovery Network at NC State for them to donate to local shelters and food banks.” 

Uneaten food left on plates is composted. After you put your plate on the revolving rack in the dining halls, a staff member will scrape leftover food into a compost bin. This compostable material is taken to the NC State Compost Facility & Research Cooperative for processing. Eventually, it will return to campus as a soil amendment for landscaping or for the Agroecology Education Farm, which grows more than 9,000 pounds of produce annually for NC State Dining.

While uneaten food can serve a purpose, students should be mindful about reducing their overall waste. In October 2021, Zero Waste intern Emma Gandy and Dining intern Jylonda Hill participated in a “Weigh Your Waste” event at Fountain Dining Hall. At the dining hall’s exit, they collected nearly 50 pounds of uneaten food in just one hour. 

“Students can reduce their food waste by reducing their portions,” said Gandy. “If they really like something or are still hungry, they can always go back for seconds.” 

Gandy also noted that students shouldn’t scrape their plates into the landfill bins available in the dining hall but rather leave it on the plate. 

“Remember, Dining will compost your food and paper napkins if you leave it on the plate,” she said. 

While composting is better than sending food waste to landfills, what’s best is to limit food waste altogether. Food is a basic need that not everyone has equal access to. In fact, a 2018 report found that 14% of NC State students experience food insecurity. 

There are many ways to help reduce food insecurity, including donating or volunteering with Feed the Pack Food Pantry, which is open to all members of the Wolfpack community. Students can put unused dining dollars to use by stocking up on nonperishable items from campus C-stores to donate. Also, the PACK Meal Share Program allows students to donate their dining dollars to other students. More information about these resources and others can be found on the Pack Essentials website.