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2009 News Releases

Longwood dining hall actively involved in sustainability

March 12, 2009

Sustainability

Longwood University's dining hall is doing its fair share in the university's sustainability campaign.

The decision to go trayless has reduced food waste by nearly two-thirds, surpassing even the expectations of Longwood Dining Services/ARAMARK officials. The initiative, which became mandatory in August 2008 after being tried on a voluntary basis during the 2007-08 academic year, also has conserved the water, chemicals and energy used to wash trays.

Over spring break recently, the sustainability effort was strengthened when a machine called a food waste pulper was installed in the dining hall. These pulpers water-grind food scraps, cardboard and paper, then extract most of the moisture to produce a dry, organic pulp. Longwood Dining Services has worked closely with the university's Facilities Management department to identify a beneficial composting area for the organic pulp. The organic pulp is used to enhance the health and beauty of campus plantings, while reducing the overall amount of waste coming from Dorrill Dining Hall.

"Going trayless, sustainability, and the pulper are all tied together," said Grant Avent, director of Longwood Dining Services. "By going trayless, we have reduced organic waste, and now we're going to use it for compost, thanks to the pulper. Going trayless is truly beneficial to the environment."

Kelly Martin, Longwood's sustainability coordinator, agrees. "Going trayless touches on all three components of sustainability: environmental sustainability since it reduces the algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay; economic sustainability, by saving money, water, detergent and energy since you're using less to wash dishes; and social sustainability, since we're going to give FACES (local food pantry) a check for $1,000 from the sale of the trays," she said. The trays are being sold for a minimum $1 donation.

Martin and Louise Waller, Longwood's space planning and real property manager, visited a food waste pulper at the University of Virginia's Observatory Hill dining facility in fall 2007.

"After food is scrapped off plates, the food is carried along in a trough of running water to the pulper, where it grinds the food up similar to a garbage disposal," Martin said. "Unlike a garbage disposal, you get the food back; it doesn't go down the drain. Once the pulper grinds the food, it extracts the water and discharges the pulped food waste down a chute and into a trash container. The organic waste, which comes out with an oatmeal-like consistency, will be composted. Longwood has a compost pile at the Randolph Street warehouse consisting of landscaping debris and the ash that comes out of the heating plant; the pulped food waste will be added to this compost pile. The finished compost will be used on campus as fertilizer."

Based on what she observed at U.Va., Martin estimates that Longwood will generate about 3,613 pounds of pulped material per week.

The dining hall currently grounds up its waste. The pulper, which will be installed in the dish room on the Iler side of the dining hall, is from the Hobart Corporation, the world's leading supplier of food equipment for the food service and food retail industries.

Longwood Dining Services compared the amount of food wasted on a Monday before going trayless, Nov. 12, 2007, with a Monday after going trayless, Feb. 9, 2009. Before going trayless, an average of .35 pounds of food was wasted per day per customer. After going trayless, that figure was only .13 pounds, for a 64 percent reduction in food waste. Even though slightly more meals were served on the Monday after going trayless, only 504 pounds were wasted as opposed to 1,399 pounds in 2007.

"I didn't realize how much food was wasted until we measured it," Avent said. "It was more than I expected. It's not that people are eating less; they're wasting less. Going trayless has proven to be a real savings."