Ursinus Wins EPA Sustainability Honors in Food Waste Reduction

Ursinus is a national winner in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The student group Wismer on Wheels is part of the successful program.

Ursinus College is being hailed as a national model for reducing food waste, thanks to a broad effort by students and Ursinus College Dining Services.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized Ursinus as one of 13 organizations and businesses that have documented the highest amounts of food waste diverted from landfills, in the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Ursinus is the winner in the Colleges and Universities data-driven section. The data-driven award recipients achieved the highest percent increases in their sector comparing year to year data.

Coincidentally, Sodexo, the company that manages Ursinus Dining Services, is also a national winner, in the narrative leadership category.

Ursinus Dining Services diversion efforts include food waste reduction, food donated in the community by student volunteers such as the group Wismer on Wheels, recycling, composting and waste to energy efforts, all processes that divert waste from landfills. The Food Recovery Challenge involves tracking data through the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Data Management System, annual reporting and creating goals for the following year. This is the third year Ursinus is participating, as a member school of the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium, sponsored by Sodexo.

According to Ron Wood, general manager of Ursinus Dining Services, the successful reduction in food waste, which keeps food waste out of landfills, was the result of several initiatives, including working with students, faculty and staff to raise awareness of food waste and instituting measures to reduce it.

“We have a student group on campus, Wismer on Wheels, whose members  volunteer to collect and package the leftover food that has not been put out for service,” he said. “It is then donated to a local food bank. The donated food is weighed, and I report that in the EPA data tool along with our recycling and waste diversion.”

Wismer on Wheels is just one of several key components of the waste reduction plan.  Currently waste materials are being diverted to a trash to energy facility. Ursinus recycles cardboard, plastics and glass. “We also recycle our fryer oil which is then turned into bio diesel,” Wood said.  Dining Services is currently working with Environmental Studies students in an effort to resume composting next semester.

“All of these smaller initiatives in total add up to considerable diversion amounts,” Wood said. “The key to success, and the award, I believe, was the year to year percentage increase of waste diverted from landfills. Established by the data input into the tool, this gave us a baseline in year one that helped us to establish goals for reduction.”

In 2015, more than 800 governments, organizations and businesses – including restaurants, entertainment venues and educational institutions – participated in the challenge, to keep food from being wasted, according to the EPA.

The EPA credits this effort with saving 690,000 tons of food from being wasted, which reduced carbon emissions equivalent to taking some 86,000 cars off the road for a year. According to the EPA, food waste carried significant economic and environmental costs, and costs the average family $1,500 a year. – Wendy Greenberg