The methane gas produced by the combustion and decomposition of this food waste helps contribute to the warming of our globe, but even as we burn millions of tons of food each year – nearly 50 million Americans continue to live with food insecurity.
The problem of food waste is deeply ironic given the crisis of food insecurity and hunger, not just across the country, but even on GW’s own campus. Organizations like The Store, which provides free food to students, help alleviate this problem, but the fact that The Store is widely used going into its third year illustrates that the issue of food insecurity is still rampant on campus. At a University with a student body as wealthy as GW’s, it is shameful that students cannot afford food while thousands of pounds of useable food are likely disposed of each day around these very students.
With more than 10,000 students and staff, GW is no doubt a huge contributor to the food waste problem. The very nature of GW’s dining plan – which allows students to use their GWorld card at various restaurants across campus – contributes by significantly expanding the number of individual entities that waste food at the end of the day. This decentralized form of University dining makes conservation efforts difficult because the University does not have control over each individual franchise, but GW can take steps to reduce the amount of food waste on campus by expanding the composting program, educating students about food waste and implementing programs to cut food waste at on-campus events.
GW mainly faces consumption and distribution issues when it comes to food waste. Either food is not sold by the restaurant or consumers purchase too much food and throw out what they don’t eat. To combat this, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends smarter planning, and GW could easily adopt this recommendation. Last month, GW hosted an event at Whole Foods that gave tips on meal preparation, but it is unclear whether the University will continue these events after the first pilot. GW should absolutely continue this event series and focus on meal planning, shopping, preparation and storage, so students can shop smarter, cook better and store more effectively, and ultimately limit the amount of food that they waste.
When consumer waste is completely unavoidable, GW should encourage students to compost their waste, diverting it from landfills and ensuring it becomes useful and productive plant food. GW launched a composting program in the spring that has collected more than 500 pounds just during the summer break. But the University still has more work to do to expand this program. At nearby Georgetown University, the composting program collected more than 100,000 pounds of food waste in a 12-week period. While our program is still new, the University should expand and advertise it further to better solve its food waste problem.
The problem of food waste does not just exist on the individual level because GW is also a hub for events. Whether it’s an event hosted by the University or a student organization, or an outside group that has rented space – many of these events end in excess that is simply thrown away. When registering for events, GW should allow organizations to sign up to compost extra perishable food at the University’s composting program or donate leftover items to The Store or to one of the many area food pantries that need our support.
All of these policies in tandem will be effective in reducing food waste as a whole, diverting food waste from landfills and aiding local food pantries through donations of food that would otherwise be wasted. At a University as affluent as GW, it is shameful that any student should go hungry while tons of edible food go to waste each day. GW should take measures to fix this and in doing so, it will be more sustainable and better support students.
Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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