College campuses across the nation waste an average of 40 percent of their food, and at University of Wisconsin, about 30 tons of compost are removed from dining halls each month.

According to a study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, food waste makes up 23.9 percent of the total waste generated by schools and is the most common type of waste produced on college campuses.

UW’s Dining Services reduces environmental impact through the use of compost bins and biodegradable products, according to the Office of Sustainability website. 

Will Mulhern, chair of the Sustainability Committee, said although there are a lot of systems in place at UW to reduce campus waste, there is still more that could be done to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly community on campus.

Mulhern said the committee plans on focusing its efforts this spring into using reusable to-go boxes in the dining hall.

The Sustainability Committee also hopes to connect multiple organizations on campus focused on food and sustainability together, so they can work together to reduce waste on campus, Mulhern said.  

Mulhern said he hopes to connect Slow Food, an educational organization on campus dedicated to promoting engagement with the food system and UW Dining and Culinary services in order to find more effective ways to reduce waste and implement changes on campus.

Craig Benson, the director of the Office of Sustainability, said the organization’s main mission is to create value in waste on campus. Because dumping food does not have value, Benson said the Office of Sustainability is focused on providing compost bins at dining service locations on campus, including Union South.

Benson said he hopes the campus will eventually be able to reclaim energy from the food that is composted on campus by using anaerobic digestion, in which biodegradable material is broken down in order to produce fuels.

Luke Van Den Langenberg, a member of WE Conserve, said because recycling and trash are picked up by campus trucks, and those trucks pick up at different locations, calculating the total amount of food waste produced by dining services is difficult.

The City of Madison is also looking at ways to reduce food waste and is considering building a biodigester to make energy from food waste, Langenberg said. UW might collaborate with the city and provide food waste from campus to the biodigester in order to produce energy, he said.

To create an effective sustainable food system on campus, Benson said UW must promote healthy, organic food in the dining halls. Benson said he believes the most important step to reducing food waste on campus is to create awareness among students, faculty and staff.

“We need to be good stewards of the world we live in,” Benson said. “When we buy food on campus, we should only buy what we need, not just what we want.”