The UT Division of Housing and Food Service is teaming with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce its food waste by 5 percent in one year.
The department announced Friday its participation in the EPA’s national Food Recovery Challenge, which tasks participants with decreasing food waste by reducing unnecessary consumption and increasing composting and food donations to charity. The EPA estimates 34 million tons of food are wasted annually in the U.S., much of which ends up in landfills and becomes a significant source of greenhouse gases.
DHFS environmental specialist Hunter Mangrum said the department has been working to reduce food waste for many years by introducing single-stream recycling in dorms, composting, monitoring purchasing and donating over-produced food. Mangrum said it is important that UT be a leader in developing and implementing projects aimed at sustainability and waste reduction.
“In my opinion, this is a global issue, and we are a part of an institution that is globally minded. Thus, it is our responsibility and deep-rooted desire to help better humanity,” Mangrum said. “And I believe here at UT is where so much of that can be fostered, practiced and then shared with the rest of the world.”
While DHFS has not announced any new programs to ensure it meets the program’s 5 percent reduction goal, Mangrum said the resources the EPA will provide through the Food Recovery Challenge may bring added efficiency and new ideas to the department. One such resource that DHFS will use is the WasteWise Re-TRAC, a data managing and reporting system that records and tracks waste generation and reduction activities.
In participating in the Food Recovery Challenge, UT joins Rice University, Baylor University, University of Houston and UT-Arlington, becoming the fifth university in Texas to make the pledge to reduce food waste.
EPA environmental engineer Golam Mustafa said UT will be a valued participant because of its large-scale dining and food operations and the opportunity to educate students about environmental sustainability.
“The reason we are approaching universities is because it’s where our future generations will be educated,” Mustafa said. “They will be taking care of the environment. In our society we waste a lot of food because food is cheap here and it is a very small percentage of our total income compared to Third World countries.”
Mustafa said the 5 percent reduction goal is not binding, and the resources offered by the EPA will continue to be available after a year.
Collin Poirot, political communications senior and assistant director of the Campus Environmental Center, said the University’s decision to take part in the EPA program has partly to do with student advocacy for the issue. The Campus Environmental Center is a sponsored student organization that works to educate students on environmental issues and develop sustainability projects on campus.
“The fact that UT-Austin, one of the largest universities in the country, is helping to lead the way on the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge shows that the administration has listened to student concerns,” Poirot said. “More and more universities across the country are realizing that students want to live somewhere that offers them the opportunity to live sustainably.”