Chapter 26

Zero Waste in the Kitchen

On most campuses, dining service operations are responsible for generating and managing enormous amounts of waste including packaging, cardboard, food, compostable food ware and napkins. With the fast food trend growing on college campuses, disposable food ware has increased the food service waste stream. As campuses are able to implement composting programs, campus inputs are getting greened through purchasing and distribution of compostable foodware. Campus catering services are also incorporating compostable items into campus food service operations.

Depending on the size of the student population, a college campus may have multiple dining facilities that offer various forms of dining including: campus catering, all-you-care-to-eat sit down, purchase-by-item sit down, take out, and snack and fast food types of eateries. On some campuses, at certain times of the year, dining service operations are open around the clock. From procurement and production to the serving line and check out counter, decisions are made that impact the waste stream. Many food service options are available for reducing kitchen waste while diverting items through recycling and composting.

Many schools contract out the campus food services. Some contractors are becoming more competitive by incorporating sustainability and waste management (e.g. waste reduction, recycling, composting, bulk foods etc.) into their operations. Consider researching how a contractor performs at other colleges and how that school is utilizing creative contracting to encourage green practices.  

Research the food services waste stream on campus to determine what types of materials are generated, what can be recovered, and how to reduce overall waste generation. 

Inventory the dining operations in order to answer several questions: 

Performing a visual waste audit in meal preparation areas, followed by a more in depth audit of the dumpsters located by food service areas, is a useful strategy to know where to begin. In addition, assess the item storage and purchasing processes. This information is valuable and will provide the opportunity for a thorough overview of the solid waste stream and strategies for reducing it.                                               

Start with reduction, beginning with purchasing changes in order to minimize waste, cost, and need for additional space to accommodate single serving packaging.

Whether to use durable service ware or disposables is a long debated issue. Initial purchase of durables, how to ensure that items are returned to the proper locations, and creating and funding washing facilities are just some of the concerns of food service managers. Space and labor are necessary to collect and wash durables. Consider electricity, water, and sewer expenses, as well as potential theft of service ware. In a sit down facility, durables are more likely to be used, while take-out facilities are typically designed to use disposables. Franchise packaging considerations are made in a boardroom and are written into contracts. If disposables are unavoidable, try to reduce the impact as much as possible through education programs.

The following are measures that can be taken to reduce food waste by minimizing the amount of food that is purchased, then not eaten:

Pre and post consumer food waste also needs to be dealt with in order to minimize impact on landfills. Here are some ideas on how to prevent valuable meals and food scraps from being wasted:

Napkins are expensive items that overwhelm food service waste streams. Take the following steps to reduce the impact from paper napkins on the campus waste stream:

All campus food service areas generate recyclables that are easy to identify and separate. The most commonly generated materials in a kitchen area are:

As campus food services implement use of compostable products, ensuring compost collection in all campus kitchens is critical to a zero waste campus. It's always important to establish what materials are generated in what areas. With that, implementing a compost recovery system in a campus kitchen involves: identifying the discards and areas where food is prepped, setting up a system to capture pre materials within the kitchen area, providing central composting bins outside the kitchen area for service collection and ensuring that all campus catered events have a zero waste event service that includes capture of all compostables and compost. The most commonly generated compostable materials in a campus kitchen are:

**Of note: in considering implementation of a composting recovery effort for all campus food related activities, requires working with the Food Service Directors to ensure all of the "disposables" utilized are compatible with the compost processor. It's important to work with the local processor to determine what items are acceptable locally. If the discards from campus food services are not approved for the local compost system, then it creates public confusion and high contamination. Greening the inputs is key to a successful composting and zero waste recovery system.

Work with Campus Kitchen Staff Members simple, it WORKS!


Food Packaging 

Green Restaurant Association 

Inform Report: “Getting an ‘A' at Lunch” 

National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program 

Related Articles                                              

“ASU Student Designs New Container to End Food Packaging Waste” 

“Reducing Food Packaging Waste.” Ode Magazine Online