Clean Plate Day reveals waste

On Thursday, March 14, one of St. Olaf’s newest student committees, the Clean Plate Campaign, measured the food waste produced during one mealtime in Stav Hall.

Clean Plate Campaign, a committee under the umbrella of the Environmental Coalition EC, was brought to life at the beginning of this semester when Lacey Etzkorn ’15 asked if anybody would be interested in joining a committee focused on reducing food waste.

According to Etzkorn, over the course of the past year she has worked with Real Food, a campus organization dedicated to collaborating with St. Olaf and Bon Appetit to promote sustainable purchasing of local, fair trade, ecologically sound and humane foods. Recently, however, the organization has decided to shift its goals.

“We found that the management team already practices sustainability very well, so after some soul-searching, our organization decided to work more with the students – promoting awareness of food issues and sustainable consumption habits within the student body,” Etzkorn said. Thus, the Clean Plate Campaign was born.

Thursday’s event, Clean Plate Day, marked the committee’s first major appearance. From 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., anybody who ate in Stav Hall had to scrape any uneaten food, leftover beverages, fruit peels and napkins into big plastic bins, which were later weighed before being pulped and composted. The Clean Plate Campaign gathered the following information:

From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Stav Hall served 1,350 people. In that time, those people produced 92 pounds of liquid waste and 187.5 pounds of solid waste including napkins, apple cores and orange peels.

This adds up to a total of 279.5 pounds of waste in two hours. All in all, this averages out to 0.21 pounds per person about 3.4 ounces.

Louisa Carroll ’15, who helps with media, publicity and organization of events on the committee, said that she saw a lot of food wasted in the hour and a half that she was helping students scrape their plates. Among the thrown-away food items were a whole chicken breast, a piece of pizza with only one bite taken out of it, an entire bowl of yogurt and an untouched apple, she said.

“Obviously we can’t eliminate all waste,” Carroll said. “We’re not expecting students to eat their orange peels, but the purpose of Clean Plate Day was to show how every little thing adds up.” Carroll and Etzkorn agreed that, though it was frustrating to see so much waste, Clean Plate Day was a success overall.

“I was overjoyed to hear the positive feedback from the student body,” Etzkorn said. “I was expecting some kind of revolt against us.” Carroll, too, was expecting a very negative reaction from students and was pleasantly surprised by the response.

“I think Clean Plate Day proved that St. Olaf students are genuinely concerned about their collective impact,” Carroll said. “Several students looked very concerned; others thanked us for doing the event and said they were glad they had a visual of their daily waste.”

Thursday evening, the Clean Plate Campaign displayed two 50-pound bins, one still filled with food waste from lunch and another containing waste that had already been pulped, to offer students a vivid visual of what happens to their food waste after it disappears behind the conveyer belt. The bins were accompanied with signs listing the statistics that committee members collected during lunch.

Bolstered by a successful event and a largely positive response from the student body, members of the Clean Plate Campaign are eager to continue their work educating students and, ideally, encouraging them to change their behavior.

Although it is not a widely publicized issue on campus, food waste is a major concern at St. Olaf. The 2012-2013 school year was the first year in which composting had been introduced to the residence halls – this year, only the first-year dorms have compost bins. The bins do not go unused; rather, St. Olaf produces too much compost.

“Though the composter should be able to handle all of the waste from the college as well as the local hospital,” said Etzkorn, “increases in on-campus food waste over the past years have negated the possibility of allowing the hospital to compost and have forced the composting process to speed up.” The group willno longer be able to keep compost bins in the first-year residence halls unless it is able to create more space in the industrial-sized composter that Stav Hall uses.

“In summary,” said Etzkorn, “we were told that we will have to reduce our food waste by one-third if we hope to bring composting back to the dorms.”

Members of the Clean Plate Campaign hope that events like Clean Plate day will keep St. Olaf students interested in the issues surrounding food-waste on campus.

“We’re continuing to raise awareness on campus and educate students on food waste, its effects and how we can reduce it,” Carroll said. “We’re also working with Bon Appetit to create solutions to reduce some of our waste.” In addition, the committee is planning to make statistics about food and food waste increasingly available to students.

“I would really like to emphasize that we do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable or judged because of this campaign,” Etzkorn said. “We want people to realize that food waste is an economic and environmental issue and to become more cognizant of the food waste they produce.”

In the coming weeks, students can expect to see themselves faced more candidly with their own food waste, but they can also look forward to information, education and support in making what the Clean Plate Campaign sees as a necessary change.