SOU addresses food waste in campus dining, residence halls

A worker at The Farm at Southern Oregon University wrangles compost bins. SOU photo
January 1, 2023

Dining room food prep scraps used to enrich soil at ‘The Farm’ — and grow food for the dining hall

Southern Oregon University is trying to cut down on food preparation waste surrounding student meals on campus. 

In an effort to address food waste at both ends of food service, the Hawk dining commons at SOU started a new program in November that collects and compost scraps generated in the preparation of student meals. The composted “pre-consumer” waste is used to enrich soil at The Farm at SOU — and grow more produce for the dining commons, according to a news release.

A small grant awarded by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) funded the replacement of 10.5 inch-plates with smaller, 9-inch plates, that aim to reduce wasted food in the the dining facility, which is operated by Aladdin Campus Dining and used primarily by students in SOU residence halls. Aladdin plans to expand the composting program to all other dining locations on campus — Elmo’s and Einstein Bros. Bagels in the Stevenson Union, Southern Grounds at the Hannon Library and the Landing at Raider Village.

“This composting program is just another step in our efforts to create a more sustainable dining operation on campus,” said Daniel Kelly, marketing and sustainability coordinator for Aladdin’s SOU operations, in a news release. “Switching to a smaller plate size a few years ago was an effort to generate less post-consumer waste. This is just another avenue for us to tackle the same issue of reducing waste … but this time it’s in the area of pre-consumer waste.”

About 400 pounds of food preparation waste each week — from egg shells and scraps from fruits, to vegetables and bread — will be sent to The Farm for composting. The two-step collection process begins with compostable waste being deposited in specially marked green bins adjacent to the Hawk’s kitchen prep tables; that waste is moved to larger, secondary containers when the smaller bins are full, and the larger containers are transported by truck on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to The Farm, a few blocks to the northeast of the campus.

Kelly acknowledged the unanswered question: Why not compost post-consumer food scraps? 

That’s a bit more complicated, he said, because scraps from diners’ food plates are often mixed with materials such as meat that typically can’t be composed due to health and safety concerns. But potential solutions that may allow some form of post-consumer composting will continue to be explored.

In the meantime, all partners in the new pre-consumer composting operation — SOU Dining, The Farm at SOU, and Facilities Management and Planning — are pleased that the “closed loop” program will support the university’s sustainability goals while improving productivity.

“As we get more and more produce from The Farm in our dining operations, being able to take some waste back to The Farm to turn it into compost creates a circular aspect, as that compost later gets used to support the crops at The Farm to generate more produce,” Kelly said. “It’s a win for plants, the environment and all the people who interact with food on campus — students, staff and community members.”

Source: Southern Oregon University news release. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at betling@ashland.news or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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