Last year just shy of one million people walked through the doors of Panther Dining Hall.
Students, faculty, staff, members of the community, summer camp participants and more enjoyed their buffet-style meals.
However, they were also contributing to the 456 pounds of food waste that PDH generates on a daily basis.
With a large flow of both on-campus and off-campus students, coaches, professors and more, PDH is relied upon by many.
As soon as the doors open to when the dining hall closes, anywhere from 850 to 1250 people might swipe in between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The estimated 456 pounds of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste was determined by using volume-to-weight conversions from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.
To elaborate, there is a clear distinction between pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste.
Anything that comes from meal prep and cooking-related activities, including the non-edible portion of foods such as vegetable trimmings and watermelon rinds, are deemed pre-consumer waste.
Post-consumer waste—the majority of campus food waste—consists of the leftovers and discarded items that dining hall goers are putting back onto the trash conveyor.
“We attempt to keep our production levels to the point where we have zero pre-consumer food waste, but that isn’t always possible,” said Jon Skoviera, head chef at PDH.
Stewart and Skoveria also highlighted how PDH has taken multiple steps in attempting to minimize pre-consumer food waste.
Implementing techniques such as batch-cooking (a “cook as you go” method), daily meal prep sheets, post-shift inventory and using smaller plates than other college campus dining halls to control portions all aid in diminishing food waste.
The fact that there are no trays and no to-go option also encourages a system that promotes using all resources in a cost-effective manner.
“One of the most important tools that helps with reducing the volume of food waste is the pulper,” said Evan Olsen, assistant director of campus dining.
The pulper essentially grinds, compresses and rids the waste of any liquid to make it lighter and easier to throw away.
Olsen also mentioned that the pulper helps minimize the university’s carbon footprint and reduces landfill contributions by about 75 percent.
While 456 pounds may seem high for a daily measurement of waste, some students feel that it’s not a tremendous amount in comparison to other universities.
“I feel 456 pounds might not be as bad because we have a small undergraduate enrollment, only one dining hall and not every student has a meal plan,” said Carter Juskevich, a senior in sports management and marketing.
Other students such as Ally MccArron, a senior majoring in sustainability and the vice president of SOSA, stated that 456 pounds is a lot of mass to comprehend, but “most likely not nearly as bad as some other campuses.”
Data from the National Resource Defense Council reports that 22 million pounds of food are wasted each year on college campuses, with the average college student contributing to about 142 pounds in food waste.
With that being said, Florida Tech seems to be doing above average in terms of food waste management.
On a much larger scale, data collected and reported on behalf of Michigan State’s Agro-Biology Research lab in 2018 reported an annual 516,818 pounds of pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste.
Based on the daily waste, Florida Tech would have an annual pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste of 166,440 pounds.
However, there is a large difference in undergraduate enrollment, where Michigan State has just under 40,000 and Florida Tech has about 3,600 undergraduates with only 2,100 of them having meal plans according to Stewart.
While Florida Tech facilities has previously attempted to manage food waste by composting just pre-consumer trimmings and scraps, the university has never institutionalized composting for combined pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste.
“It’s something we’ve looked into before,” Stewart said. “But in terms of finding something that is cost-effective and finding a commercial composter in Florida, it’s extremely difficult.”
Other issues when it comes to composting such as space, maintenance and quality control have also arisen.
“The main challenge about trying to institutionalize compositing is where to put it,” said Quinn Duffy, Florida Tech’s sustainability officer.
“We are zoned in the city of Melbourne building code as an institutional property, so the problem is that we have bought residential properties, and we have to be very conscious about smell, noise, traffic, things like that,” Duffy said.
In the past few weeks, Florida Tech has been discussing partnering with local farms, community members, clubs, the Brevard Zoo or any other organizations who are interested in setting up a composting program, but don’t have the volume of compostable waste that the university does.
According to Duffy, institutionalizing composting on campus “would be likely” within the next six months to a year.
This would allow grounds on campus to use the fertilizer for amending soil for plants, or beds and filling in places where there will be higher nutrient landscaping.
When asked about how they would feel about composting becoming a reality on campus, Juskevich and MccArron both said they are in favor of it as long as it is economically feasible and cost-effective option.
In the meantime, while the campus awaits its first large-scale composting operation, MccArron urges students to be more conscious of what they put on their plates and to monitor what exactly they throw away.
“Even if one student goes into the dining hall and says, ‘Oh, I’m going to try working on portion control,’ they create less waste and that’s one step in the right direction,” MccArron said.