As campus goes green, food waste lingers

Non-profits divert waste from Queen’s food outlets

While the recently unveiled Climate Action Plan has set goals for a more sustainable campus, food waste efforts aren’t making headlines.

Since Principal Woolf’s 2010 commitment that Queen’s would become carbon neutral by 2040, the University has diverted more resources to sustainability. These efforts include this year’s $10.7 million contract with Honeywell — an engineering firm that’s guaranteed $946,000 in annual savings along with an offset carbon footprint.

However, food waste hasn’t received the same widespread attention. 

Food waste is any food left unconsumed. Food thrown out of could otherwise be composted or donated to local shelters. 

In 2012-13, Queen’s produced 1,097.11 tons of landfill waste, 45 per cent of the total waste on campus. Bruce Griffiths, executive director of Housing and Ancillary Services said Queen’s diverted 260 million tons from the landfill over 2014-15. 

 

“Through the use of ECorect [waste management] machines at Ban Righ and Leonard Dining Halls, waste volume is reduced by 9-to-1 [93 per cent],” he said.

 

 From 2012 Green Energy Report (Graphic by Ashley Quan)

As the campus gets greener, Diana Yoon, AMS deputy commissioner of Environment and Sustainability, says there’s still room for improvement when limiting food waste. 

Yoon, ArtSci ’17, is the Deputy Commissioner of Student Engagement. Most of her duties involve student outreach among the various environmental clubs on campus. 

Based off her time with non-profits such as Loving Spoonful, Yoon says Kingston community efforts to provide accessible landfill alternatives have been more successful than campus endeavours. Loving Spoonful, a volunteer-based organization, collects and distributes food to shelters, meal programs and drop-in centres. The group distributed 47,000 lbs of fresh food in 2014.

 

“I don’t see the same kind of advocacy or even programming on campus,” she said.  “There are compost bins in the Student Life Centre and in Mac-Corry, but not in a lot of other buildings.”

 

From 2013 Waste Reduction Plan (Graphic by Ashley Quan)

Yoon says it’s a matter of convenience for most students to properly dispose of their food. She added that clear signs and visibility can improve efforts.

“People will recycle a water bottle but not necessarily carry an orange peel until they find a compost.” 

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainability Peter Liberty agrees. He said the only front-of-house compost bins are managed by the StudentLife Centre. 

“Many of the garbage cans around campus don’t have accompanying recycling bins, meaning students often have to throw their recycling or compost into the garbage,” he said.

According to Scott Lougheed, an environmental science PhD and food waste researcher, food waste makes up one third of all produced food. He added that waste occurs at every level of the supply chain. 

“Everywhere from the farm to the table and beyond, they all contribute to food waste,” he said. 

After a 2011 audit that found that 70 per cent of campus waste was organic and could be saved, the Queen’s Sustainability Office kickstarted a campaign to place 64 green bins in campus offices, diverting a reported 200 kg from going to the landfill.  Meanwhile, back-of-house food waste and compost collection was implemented in campus dining halls.

 

 From the Conservation and Demand Management Plan 2014-2019 (Graphic by Ashley Quan)

Soul Food, a campus club founded in 2007, delivers unconsumed food from campus cafeterias to local shelters, while Enactus Queen’s has spearheaded composting in university residences in the past year.

Soul Food and Loving Spoonful, where Yoon worked as a volunteer, both divert food outlet waste from campus food outlets. When unused kitchen food would otherwise be thrown out, the food is left in bins at the back of the cafeteria for volunteers to deliver it to local shelters and soup kitchens. 

Retired Queen’s Professor and former Loving Spoonful Chair of the Board of Directors Mary McCollam says the two non-profits have had a productive relationship. Soul Food focuses on campus cafeterias while Loving Spoonful covers for the lack of student volunteers at the end of terms and during the summer. 

Additionally, Loving Spoonful diverts food from campus outlets like Lazy Scholar and Canadian Grilling Company. 

McColam says Loving Spoonful still receives large amounts of surplus food from Queen’s, and even collects during summers with lower volume donations. However, Queen’s food manager Sodexo does not allow the numbers to be published. 

Mara Shaw, director of Loving Spoonful, agrees, saying Queen’s students and food outlets have been a valuable support for the non-profit group.

Everyday, campus food outlets set aside unused food to be reclaimed by volunteers.

“It’s been incredible,” she said. “Students are great volunteers and I look forward to doing more.”

 

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