by Skylar Gering
Emissions from food waste are a major source of green house gases, which are the drivers of climate change. How is Harvey Mudd dealing with its food waste and what are student environmental groups doing about the issue?
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-40 percent of the food supply in America is wasted yearly. Food waste occurs in all stages of food production, from growth to consumption. This waste has serious consequences on the environment and contributes to global warming by producing greenhouse gases. Emissions come from the energy required to harvest, ship, clean, and cook wasted food. They also come from the animals raised for uneaten food. Additional sources of emissions come from excess fertilizer use, land change, deforestation, and the decay of food in landfills (World Resources Institute). In fact, reducing food waste is the third best solution to global warming according to Project Drawdown, a coalition of climate change experts who research potential climate change solutions. They determined that eliminating food waste could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 70 gigatons.
The Hoch already takes some precautions to reduce the amount of food waste produced. First, Harvey Mudd has partnered with a local food bank and students often deliver leftover, untouched food for distribution to food insecure people in the Claremont community. Additionally, Harvey Mudd has a composting program in conjunction with the City of Claremont, which diverts food waste from landfills. However, the composted food still contributes to the other sources of unnecessary greenhouse gas production described above.
Last year, ASHMC Sustainability partnered with Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) to run a Weigh the Waste audit at Harvey Mudd during Earth Week. Students were not informed that the audit would be occurring in order to establish a baseline and only found out about it when they went to dispose of their garbage after dinner on Earth Day. Instead of scooping their food waste into the compost bins like normal, volunteers from ESW and ASHMC Sustainability asked students to put their food waste into special bins that were weighed at the end of the night. After dinner was over and measurements were taken, the food waste was then transferred to the compost bins and composted like normal.
The first night, there were 106.5 pounds of food waste, with approximately 0.127 pounds of food waste per person. Volunteers from campus environmental groups ran the audit every night at dinner for the rest of the week. There was a downward trend for the next three nights with a low of only 0.067 pounds of food waste per person on Wednesday. The food waste per person fluctuated for the rest of the week but did not get over 0.1 pound of food waste per person.
However, ESW and ASHMC Sustainability did another surprise audit a week later and recorded 0.105 pounds of food waster per person. Looking at this data, the question becomes how to decrease food waste, but also how to keep the food waste at the decreased level.
This year, ASHMC Sustainability is looking into how to expand the Weigh the Waste Program and make it more effective. They are considering making the audits longer and collecting more data. Additionally, they are currently in talks with Caltech about potentially running a competition between the schools regarding reducing food waste. Of course, the purpose of these events would be to reduce Harvey Mudd’s greenhouse gas emissions through reducing food waste. However, more than that, these events are to help students realize the impact of their waste and change the culture of Harvey Mudd from wasteful to waste-less.