Division of Housing and Food Service rebrands to reduce food waste

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Autumn Jones

Raccoons have been the face of a poster campaign to reduce campus food waste for years, but a group of student researchers recently pointed out the animal is actually kind of gross.

Neil Kaufman, Division of Housing and Food Service sustainability coordinator, said advertising graduate and doctoral students approached him last semester saying another animal could produce better results with reducing food waste. The Division started using raccoons as the face of its marketing campaign in 2014 due to their association with garbage, but is switching gears to another animal next spring.

“There’s a lot of research out there that supports the idea that messaging coming from animal characters is more effective because it’s not a human wagging a finger at you,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman said he is now working with the marketing department and the students to come up with a new character. The list of possible animals for the new campaign comes from a survey in which communications students were asked which animal would be the best spokesperson for food waste.

The student researchers will be taking the top four or five characters through focus group testing, Kaufman said.

The Division has made efforts throughout the years to reduce waste, such as placing spatulas out so students can serve themselves and getting rid of trays in 2009.

“One of the things (Housing and Food Service) discovered is that when you give somebody a tray, especially a hungry student, you can get a couple plates of burritos and end up wasting more than you eat,” said Jim Walker, director of UT’s Office of Sustainability.

An average day at both J2 and Kinsolving dining halls will see about 1,000 pounds of edible food wasted, Kaufman said. The Division has been weighing plates since 2008 to track waste and is using these past weeks as a baseline to help the researchers see the rebranding’s effect.

Environmental science junior Katie Strain weighs plates for the Clean Plate Club and said students are wasting a sad yet interesting amount of food.

“You just find some weird stuff sometimes,” Strain said. “I once found an entire pizza that someone had taken and not eaten.”

Reducing Housing and Food Services’ waste plays a serious role in UT’s zero waste plan, Kaufman said.

“We are the single biggest contributor to all kinds of waste on campus,” Kaufman said. “So when we make efforts to improve our waste, it affects the whole campus’ goals.”