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Campus Food Waste is Focus of Senior's Guided Environmental Research Project

A three-week pilot program spearheaded by senior Juliana Lee seeks to limit the amount of food waste going from the Loomis Chaffee dining hall into the trash.

The program, which began last week, is the culmination of Julianna's year-long Guided Environmental Research Project.

During the first week of May, dining hall employees began putting food scraps collected at the end of each meal service into 20-gallon bins provided by Blue Earth Compost, a local company that processes post-consumer waste into agricultural compost and raw material for other uses. Blue Earth is collecting the scraps twice a week from Loomis for processing.

After the pilot program, Julianna said, the school can look at the amount of food waste collected and consider whether the cost of continuing a relationship with Blue Earth is warranted.

Julianna, who has been a leader in Loomis' Sustainable Agriculture Program since her sophomore year, decided to address food waste at Loomis as a Guided Environmental Research Project, a hands-on, independent study advised by Jeff Dyreson, associate director of the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies. Julianna embarked on the project by asking, "How much food do we throw away in the dining hall, and what can we do to address that?"

After a review of the school's waste disposal systems, Julianna set up bins outside the dining hall during meal times for two weeks to collect and measure by weight the community's food waste. Math Department Head Joe Cleary helped Julianna analyze the data from the food waste audit to estimate Loomis' actual output.

"Based on what we calculated, Loomis puts about 200,000 to 250,000 pounds of food waste in a 35-week school year into the trash, which seems kind of wasteful," Julianna said, adding that she estimates that around 25 percent of Loomis waste is food.

Next, Julianna turned her attention to reducing the amount of food that the community throws away.

"We compost raw food waste in our Ag Program, but we have limited space and can only deal with food before it's been cooked or served on someone's plate," Julianna said. She explained that meats, cooked foods, and oils can't be put in the school's compost because of the risk of rotting and because the processing for composting these items is more complex than for raw foods and requires special treatment.

Following up on a connection made with Blue Earth Compost by Gratia Lee, director of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Loomis, and partnering with Julie Clark of FLIK, the dining hall food service provider, Julianna set up the pilot program. At the end of the trial, Julianna will assess how the process went and share her findings with the school's administrative team for consideration of a longer-term partnership with Blue Earth.

Julianna also is working to raise awareness about the amount of food waste the school community generates and to spread the word about ways to reduce the waste. She acknowledged that changing people's behavior can be difficult and requires regular communication. After she graduates in May, she said she hopes younger students will carry on the role of communicating the importance of food waste mindfulness.

She said she envisions many benefits of a longer-term partnership with Blue Earth for Loomis Chaffee and for the environment, including a reduction of greenhouse gas output by reducing trash output and by putting the food waste the school does generate to good use.

Connect to the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies webpage to learn more about sustainability programs at Loomis Chaffee.