We asked Jackie Parsons, Kent State’s executive director of Dining Services, to walk us through some of Dining Service’s strategies to prevent and divert wasted food from the landfill, using categories from the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy (see first chart in main article).
Create Less Surplus
“Since Kent State’s board plan is à la carte, the university doesn’t have as much waste as institutions with traditional buffet plans‚” says Parsons. However‚ last summer Kent State started a LeanPath pilot program at one of its 24 food units across the Kent Campus. LeanPath, a Portland, Oregon, company with a system to monitor food waste, turns waste monitoring into a science.
Using a scale and a monitor with a touch screen‚ staff weigh anything that isn’t used‚ enter information about what it is and why they’re throwing it out, and the LeanPath program creates reports analyzing the waste, including a dollar amount for the trashed food.
“We will continue the program until the end of spring semester‚ then decide where else we will roll it out,” Parsons says. “With this program, we prepare food differently and think about what else we can do with the waste.”
To increase the efficiency of food production‚ last summer all the full-time Dining Services staff went through knife skills training so they can use as much of the food as possible.
Feed People in Need
Kent State’s Dining Services sends some of its overflow to Campus Kitchen, as well as to Kent Social Services and the Center of Hope. “If we have sandwiches left over‚ we give them directly to the agencies,” Parsons says. “Campus Kitchen isn’t going to take them apart for ingredients.”
The university has begun a pilot program with a local farm and a smaller food unit on campus to make sure both parties can handle the volume. “Right now it’s fruit and vegetable scraps going to feed pigs‚” Parsons says. “We’re running it until the end of spring semester‚ and then my hope is that we can expand to other farms.”
The university sells its frying oil to Griffin Industries, a company that buys oil and repurposes it.
Recently Parsons met with Kelvin Berry, director of Economic Development and Community Relations at Kent State, who is working with the City of Kent and Rui Liu, Ph.D.‚ an assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, to investigate the possibility of converting food waste to energy through anaerobic digestion‚ using one of the two anaerobic digesters at the Kent Water Treatment Plant.
“It’s still very early in the process‚” Parsons says. “But we are happy to begin this conversation.”
Berry‚ who came to Kent State in 2013, has been researching this concept for some time. “The manager of Kent’s water treatment plant agreed to partner with us during this preliminary phase‚” Berry says. “Dr. Liu’s graduate students will do a feasibility study of food waste generated by the university and try to gain the support of restaurants and grocery stores. We want to see if we could collect that food waste and add it to the anaerobic digester, which studies show allows it to function more efficiently.”
Food waste generates more methane gas than solid waste does, says Berry. “If we could capture enough methane gas from the anaerobic digestion process, it could be directed into power turbines that create electricity—which could be used to power the water treatment plant and perhaps other buildings. We already have a strong partnership with the City of Kent‚ and this just expands our efforts to help each other accomplish great things.”
When it comes to post-consumer waste, “We don’t have control over all the food on campus,” Parsons says. “People bring in their own food‚ so what do they do with their pizza crusts or orange peels? That’s a bigger issue.”
Parsons is looking for a resource for composting‚ but says that would also require changes in the kitchen. “When we finish trimming that pineapple, what do we do with the rind? We have to separate it from things that can’t be recycled.
“If we’re going to do all that sorting‚ there needs to be a place for it to go. Right now, we don’t have an end user.”