Sustainability Column: Food for Thought

Madison Smith

If you were not already aware, food waste at Colgate is a major problem. Not only did we start the year off by wasting upwards of 1,500 pounds of food a week in Frank Dining Hall alone, but we are also wasting all of the potential that we have to create a sustainable and efficient dining environment. Seeing that we are a relatively small university with a seemingly progressive mindset, it is still baffling to me that we are capable of throwing so much edible food into the landfill. It is shocking that we do not have a post-consumer composting system in place to more responsibly handle the food waste that we are inevitably going to have.

Colgate currently composts all of Frank’s pre-consumer waste, which encompasses materials like vegetable scraps that are a result of food preparation. This portion of compost then goes and sits on a plot of land, unturned and never made into something useful. Yes, the fact that there is some composting, although inefficient, is great, but it also adds to my confusion. We compost about 3,000 pounds of pre-consumer waste every week, and this only takes up about a third of the space designated to composting. What this means is that, even if we added the extra 1,500 pounds that comes from post-consumer composting, we would still have more than enough space for all of the waste. Suddenly 4,500 pounds of food is not going into the landfill. What is preventing us from the additional composting is, understandably, a lack of labor. 

I do think, however, that the benefits of composting at Colgate outweigh the extra costs. We live in a farming community, therefore if we turned our compost into a useful soil, I am confident that community members would be excited to purchase from us, giving us a return on investment. For example, Cornell University uses their 850 tons of yearly compost from campus landscaping to sell to local landscaping companies. Also, we have many students on campus who are very eager about composting and are willing to help. At Lehigh University, four students hold the responsibility of moving the compost from one of their dining halls to a site where they turn and treat it on a daily basis. This is all doable at Colgate – it is just going to take some time and effort.

Despite the negative attitude that I have towards Colgate’s culture of food waste, we do have some good initiatives in place. Three weeks ago, we started this semester’s Project Clean Plate, which aims to reduce food waste in Frank by donating the difference we have in food waste each week to the Hamilton Food Cupboard. The less we waste, the more gets donated. Multiple students are also questioning why we do not have composting. This means that there are many students who are prepared to add pressure to administrators and demand the change that we need.