The Knox Food Recovery Network (FRN) is one of the many sustainability oriented clubs on campus. Monday thru Friday FRN delivers food from the Knox cafeteria to those in need in the Galesburg community. The food ranges from pastas and vegetables to soups and casseroles, all of which are freshly prepared meals that simply never make it to the buffet line. This food would otherwise be composted or thrown away, instead it is able to feed hundreds each week. Since the club officially started last winter, FRN has recorded saving over 14,000 pounds of recovered food. Aside from just helping recover food on campus, the club also has goals to reduce food waste overall. One way the club has pursued this goal was through their “Weigh the Waste” campaign.
The Weigh the Waste campaign was a week long event held in the Hard Knox Cafe to determine the amount of food waste that is generated by cafeteria diners. Members of FRN with the help of student volunteers as well as faculty and staff, asked students to scrape the remaining food from their plates into a large plastic tub. The tub sat on a large scale positioned just outside the room with the conveyor belts where students usually drop off their plates. During lunch and dinner the number of dinners and the amount of food waste by these students was weighed and recorded in order to determine how much food waste is being generated by the student body.
Throughout the campaign there was mixed feedback from the students. Some were very supportive of the FRN’s cause and expressed that the campaign would influence the amount of food they would take from the buffet line. FRN noticed that those influenced by the campaign would have less and less food waste over the course of the week. There were those that did not recognize the influence of the campaign, however, and thought that “people were never going to stop wasting food.” These individuals were more inclined to ignore the volunteers at the table, but leave comments on the feedback board. That being said, the majority of feedback from the student body was positive and supportive of the cause.
In addition to understanding the quantity of waste, a goal of the campaign is to influence diners to create less waste as the week goes on. Unfortunately the campaign did not have the effect that FRN had hoped. Though the hope was to have food waste quantities decrease, numbers stayed relatively constant through the week. This could be attributed to a couple things: 1) participation was voluntary, so near the end of the week more people may have decided to participate in scraping their plates instead of not participating once they were used to seeing us in the Caf every day or 2) foods served later in the week may have been not to diners’ tastes as much as items served earlier in the week (based on comments left by diners).
Throughout the whole week there was a total of 5175 meals served and 490 pounds of food waste collected. The total breakdown per day can be seen on the graph above. This is an average of almost one tenth of a pound per diner. While this may seem to be a small amount, FRN observations found that in reality it isn’t a small amount of waste per person, rather a few individuals that waste a significant portion of their meal.
Though the campaign did not have the effect of lowering food waste throughout the week as the club had hoped, FRN still views the Weigh the Waste campaign as a success. FRN’s goal down the line is to raise awareness about how much food that is being wasted on the Knox campus as a first step towards a zero waste future! The club hopes that by doing additional campaigns in later terms, there will be strong growing and continued support from the student body to be mindful of how individual efforts can make a positive difference to the big picture of food waste in the world.