Climate/Environment, Health and Improved Nutrition
Objectives : This study aimed to quantify the amount of plate waste, by food category, generated in the university dining hall facility, and estimate the frequency patterns and resulting nutritional and environmental implications.
Methods : This study took place in a large, public university setting, and adopted a cross-sectional study design. A food waste audit was conducted during six intermittent days. Student plate waste was collected for the entire full-day service and weighed in hourly intervals. Food waste was categorized into seven food groups, determined based on nutritional value and environmental stress of food production. The average means of student plate waste was calculated, and frequency patterns of waste generation was determined. The university food services food production records were used to determine the proportion of food wasted, and the top food groups most wasted by students. The USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28 was used to contextualize the nutrient loss of food waste. Foods were coded and aggregated by food group, and nutrition was calculated per ounce of food wasted. The “Food Availability & Losses and Estimated Greenhouse Gas emissions,” table proposed by Heller & Keoleian, 2014, was used to estimate GHG emissions of wasted food.
Results : Food waste represented 18.65% of all food produced for consumption in the dining hall facility. The top three food groups most wasted by students were whole grains, dairy and fruits and vegetables, respectfully. An average of 257.44lb of plate waste was collected per day, and an average 2026.33 meals were served per day yielding an average 0.13lb (2.06 oz.) plate waste/meal. Frequency of plate waste generation mainly accumulated during traditional hours of meal time, between 12:30 to 2:30 PM and 6 to 8 PM. Food waste represented 102 kcal, 7g protein, 1.9g dietary fiber, 75.7mg calcium, 0.35 µg vitamin D., and 0.37 kgCO2 eq/kg per meal, comparable to national estimates.
Conclusions : This study confirmed that food waste in higher education institutions may be a significant issue with plate waste quantities comparable to national studies. It highlights that food waste reduction strategies may alleviate the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions and may provide more nutritious foods to vulnerable populations.
Funding Sources : University of Maryland, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland Dining Services, University of Maryland, Office of Sustainability.