Ohio University’s Zero Waste Initiative offers film screening of “Wasted!”

by Bethany N Bella April 4, 2018

The Voinovich School’s Nicole Kirchner and Ohio University junior Economics major Hannah Stillions represented Ohio University’s Zero Waste Initiative on February 28, 2018, in a special screening of the documentary “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (2017),”sponsored by the Ohio University Food Studies theme, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Food Matters student group, and the Athens Vegan Cooking Workshop.

“I think you have to approach a complex problem like food waste from every angle to have the most success,” said Kirchner, an environmental specialist at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and co-manager of the OHIO Zero Waste Initiative. “Every little bit makes a difference.”

As the world’s percentage of hungry and food insecure people continues to rise, food waste remains a global problem of perplexing proportions. According to statistics gathered from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, roughly one third of all the food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted every year.

Additionally, the World Food Program reports that reversing this trend of annual food waste “would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people — more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe.”

Much of the food waste generated is comprised of perishable items, like fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, which can be diverted from landfills into compost for nutrient recycling. Composting at home could potentially divert up to 330 pounds of food waste per household per year. However, only a small percentage of food is composted, instead contributing to a growing issue of municipal solid waste landfills nearing capacity.

Food waste is a problem that plagues the entire food industry, from farm production, wholesale transportation, service preparation, to individual consumption. The film “Wasted!” reveals food waste trends across the food supply chain, cycling through interviews with prominent food journalists and culinary chefs about food waste concerns in both the United States and abroad.

But food waste isn’t just a problem for global markets—it’s an issue that hits close to home. Collectively, college campuses throw out a total of 22 million pounds of uneaten food each year, according to the not-for-profit student movement Food Recovery Network.

Food waste at Ohio University has been documented in previous years and is a recognized challenge that Ohio University’s Culinary Services is currently attempting to solve. Starting in summer 2017, students now experience trayless dining across campus at all residential dining courts, thanks to a successful pilot project targeting excessive food waste in dining halls conducted in the spring of 2016.

“Based on what I’ve weighed, there has been a dramatic reduction in food waste (since going trayless),” Stillions said of her research work to gather data by weighing food waste on returned plates in the dining halls. Culinary Services has also decreased the size of the plates, another psychological waste-minimization tactic that should produce positive food conservation results, according to Stillions’ research.

The OHIO Zero Waste Initiative is also currently overseeing a composting pilot at the Voinovich School across three different buildings. “Faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to recover their food waste and have it go up to the University’s composting facility,” Kirchner said. “Then, all that compost is used in the landscaping across campus after it is processed.”

The film focuses on food waste generated at all levels of production, highlighting innovative farmers, chefs, and food-scrap repurposing projects bubbling up around the world. While it’s true that food waste doesoccur at every stage throughout the food-processing cycle, the film seems to emphasize all food waste sources as the same.

In fact, 43 percent ($144 billion) of food waste by weight in the United States occurs at the household level, while just 16 percent ($15 billion) and 2 percent ($2 billion) by weight occurs at the farm and manufacturing levels, respectively, according to statistics gathered by the collaborative ReFED. This disproportionate focus on the culinary portion of food waste could have a complacency effect on consumers, who arguably contribute the most per ton of food waste.

But “there’s no single solution to any problem, especially not food waste,” Stillions said.

After the film screening, Kirchner and Stillions encouraged students on campus to remain involved in local food waste efforts.

“[Students] bring a lot of money to campus, but you also bring a lot of energy, a lot of positive opinion – you have a voice,” Kirchner said. “If you want something to change at the University, I think you all, just by sheer numbers, are the ones to make it happen.”

“I think the best thing for students to do is just to be aware,” Stillions said. “I’ve watched so many students come to the tray-return section with heaping piles of food on their plates. If you see your friend just putting food on top of food on their plate – and you know they’re not going to eat it – maybe mentioning something [about food waste] wouldn’t hurt.”

Students interested in watching additional environmental sustainability films can join the Voinovich School’s sponsored Sustainability Series on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at the Athena Cinema. 

This story also appears on the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs