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Dining disconnect lets compostable food rot

By Kaila Frisone
On February 18, 2014

The Miami Student is pleased to announce its partnership with GreenHawks Media, an environmentally-focused student news outlet. Keep an eye out for its logo and stories in future issues.

Miami University's environmental sustainability initiative has been put in place all over campus, yet some student-workers in dining services say procedures to reduce Miami's food waste are not being followed.

Director of Procurement and Food Purchases Jon Brubacher said Miami's dining services implemented a full-scale composting system in February 2013 at King Café. Since then, nearly all of the dining locations on campus have composting dumpsters.

Miami is also using pulping and dehydration systems in some dining facilities. Pulpers remove water content and grind food waste, creating a product with the consistency of coffee grounds. In dining locations such as the Armstrong Student Center, Maplestreet Station and the not-yet-opened Western Dining Hall where dehydrators are available, the pulped product goes through an eight-hour process to become soil amendment. Where dehydrators are not available, the pulped product is disposed of in a composting dumpster.

Brubacher said prior to the installation of these systems, Miami was sending approximately 200,000 pounds of food waste to landfills each year. Now, approximately 10,000 pounds of food waste are being diverted from landfills each week when school is in session.

However, some student-workers in Miami dining are not seeing the difference. First-year Jenna Tiller began working at Maplestreet Station in Red Brick Pizza and Americas in October 2013. Tiller said a lot of food is wasted by not being thrown in composting bins, especially during closing shifts.

"I think it's ridiculous how much food we are wasting," Tiller said. "It should not be that hard for students to throw food in the food bin and trash in the trash bin. I don't know why we are not doing it."

Senior Director of Dining and Culinary Support Services Nancy Heidtman alerted Veronica Collopy, Maplestreet Station's executive manager, to the apparent disconnect between expected procedure and what is actually being practiced.

"There's a chance that some people are not following procedure, and I'll need to take care of that," Collopy said.

She said it is a continuous process of training and educating the 150 student workers that Maplestreet Station employs.

The dining facility is currently working toward achieving "Silver" LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This designation is granted if the design, construction and operations of the facility meet USGBC requirements for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Heidtman said the Armstrong Student Center is currently slated for "Gold" certification, but they do not yet know if it will meet the criteria.

The Farmer School of Business was the first building on Miami's campus to achieve "Silver" LEED Certification. Sophomore Bethany Corbett worked at Dividends in FSB during the fall semester. She said Dividends began separating trash from food and composting about halfway through the semester.

Miami not only attempts to minimize food waste via composting Heidtman said, but it also donates food when possible. Because the Shared Harvest Foodbank meets the safety requirement of Miami's donation program, it receives the most food of the several hunger awareness groups, donation pantries and soup kitchens to which the university donates. The Shared Harvest Foodbank collects, warehouses, transports and distributes food contributions to more than 100 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in the surrounding counties.

Heidtman said one of the requirements of the food donation program is that a time and temperature controlled vehicle must be available to transport food to outside facilities. This requirement is in place to reduce the risk of microbial growth that could make recipients of the food ill. Miami follows Ohio Uniform Food Safety Codes limiting how much food can be donated because of health and safety concerns.

"Students are concerned about two things: where their food is coming from and where it's going," Heidtman said.

Between composting and donating food, Heidtman said Miami is getting more sophisticated in it's sustainability initiative. However, she said she is now aware of the disconnect in some dining facilities.

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