By Rob Wetterholt Jr.

Jack Reynolds packs his notebook into his backpack following lecture.  He looks around and sees students emptying out of the classroom like water gushing out of a broken pipe.  The din of students shuffling out of the lecture hall recedes until the only noise that Jack hears is the hustle and bustle of students and staff in the hallway.

Jack Reynolds is hungry.  Very hungry.

A sophomore living in the Valley dormitories, he makes his way to the cafeteria and gets in line for a submarine sandwich that is to be piled his with all of his favorite condiments.

Reynolds sits with a group of friends and devours his meal. So do they.  On his way out of the bustling food hall, Reynolds busses his dishes, tossing no more than a wrapper and a few crumbs into the garbage and heads back to his room.

By eating all of his food and throwing away crumbs that even a mouse would find unfulfilling, Reynolds has just defied the norm in WMU’s dining halls, where food waste is being analyzed with increasing scrutiny by WMU Dining Services.

WMU Food Diversion Initiative

In 2011, WMU began a Food Diversion Initiative in the Bernhard Center Dining Service kitchen that saw nearly 15,000 pounds of “production food waste” was turned over to Bear-Foot Farm, according to WMU Dining Services Food Diversion Counts.  In 2012, the initiative was expanded to include waste from Valley 1 and Valley 2 cafeterias as well as waste from Bistro 3 within Davis Hall.  As a result of this expansion, during the second half of 2012 over 36,000 pounds of food waste was successfully diverted to Bear-Foot Farm.

WMU is the only university in the state that’s making use of fruit and vegetable waste in a sustainable way through the Food Diversion Initiative, according to the State of Michigan’s Department of Agriculture.

“The EPA came up with this food waste hierarchy that talks about what to do with food waste,” said Judy Gipper, director of WMU Dining Services.  “Food waste is seen as something that should be recycled, like all the other stuff we recycle now.  This Food Diversion Initiative feeds animals, which in the food waste hierarchy is a good thing to do with food waste.”

Combating Food Waste on Campus

Prior to 2008, the first thing that students living in the residence halls did when they entered the cafeteria was to grab a tray and make their way down the line and grab foods that they thought they might enjoy during their meal.  As it turned out in the years following 2008, simply getting rid of lunch trays in the cafeterias resulted in a 25% reduction of post-consumer food waste.

“We do know that the number of bowls and plates that is taken per student decreased from five per meal to three per meal,” said Gipper.  “A person took a tray and they had a concept that they needed to have that tray filled.  No trays?  That concept went away.”

Combating production food waste is done in a way that benefits both WMU and local farmers.  Beginning in 2011, WMU teamed up with Bear-Foot Farm and provided food scraps for livestock in the form of unused vegetables and fruits that would otherwise be thrown away.

Analyzing Food Waste

Judy Gipper serves as a vital cog as part of an effort to analyze and implement changes so that less food is wasted in the residence halls on campus.  Her office in the Bernhard Center serves as a hub where information is compiled and then disseminated throughout campus in order to raise awareness about how WMU can reduce the amount of food that is wasted.

How does WMU measure food waste?

Food waste at Western Michigan University is measured in three categories.  The first category of waste is production food waste.  This is food waste that’s created during the preparation of foods for distribution to students and staff.  The next category is overproduced food.  This waste occurs as a result of too much of a certain type of food being purchased and prepared but not consumed.  The final measurement of food waste is post-consumer food waste.  This is a form of waste that happens when food is selected for consumption and then disposed of without actually being consumed at all.