“Just Eat It” Film Brings Awareness to Massive Amounts of Food Waste

By Cameron Ruen, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County

Food is wasted all along the supply chain, from the moment seeds are planted in soil through the final tip of a dump truck at the landfill. “Just Eat It” brings this invisible fact to the forefront by documenting many ways food and its nutrients are discarded.

Surprise and astonishment were evident by gasps in the audience at the unsightly amounts of food being discarded at many points in the food chain. Examples included celery plants being stripped of outer stalks to conform to packaging constraints, peaches that do not pass inspection due to grocery store appearance requirements, packaged food removed from grocery store shelves days before misunderstood labels dictate freshness or expiration, dumpsters full of food perfectly good for donation, the amount of food thrown away from consumers’ refrigerators, and the list could go on. The food industry is complex, massive, and lucrative to say the least.

The One Earth Film Festival organized the event and a post-film discussion that invited audience members to share the most impactful moments of the film. These included images of throwing away a quarter of a person’s shopping bags directly after purchase, producing one hamburger uses the amount of water used in an hour and a half shower, the fact that best by dates are not indicative of food safety, the point that composting may make people feel better about wasting, and the perception that eating what you take at school may be positive or negative depending on how you look at waste or intake quantity.

Composting Yard Waste and Food Scraps on Columbia College Campus

At Columbia College Chicago, we don’t do “normal”. We praise ourselves for not building our collegiate culture around sports teams, fraternities, or sororities. Instead we do art crawls, dance events, open mics, and large-scale film critiques. Even our campus operations are anything but “normal”. We have no cafeteria or food court, we own one residence center for on-campus housing, and we are largely a commuter-based campus. Sustainability has become a large focus at Columbia, as we continue to integrate it into our arts-based mission and accentuate the talent and creative forces around us. In the last several years, recycling has become habit on campus, so we set our sights on the next goal: compost. Through all the challenges we have faced, we have learned to be resourceful and have found creative solutions to creating and building a campus-wide compost program.

Q Center Spotlight

Q Center Spotlight

Q Center is one of the world’s largest meeting facilities and has a long history of environmental excellence. Currently, 80% of the waste generated at Q is diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting programs. In 2011, Q Center’s food service provider, Aramark, began exploring ways to reduce food waste in its operations.

Brian Holt, Aramark’s Facility Director, brought together the waste hauler, Aramark’s Director of Food & Beverage, and Q Center management in order to discuss the feasibility and logistics of a compost program. To Holt, it was imperative that all stakeholders worked together to come up with a solution. “Everyone had to have some skin in the game,” Holt stated. 

Through these meetings, the waste hauler realized that composting would be beneficial to their business as it would help to eliminate food from the single stream recycling containers. This would create a cleaner stream for both compost and recycling. They were on board. With the buy-in from Aramark’s kitchen staff and the financial support of Q Center, the conference center started composting in 2012. The program has been cost neutral to operate.

Since beginning the program in November of 2012, Q Center has composted over 250 tons of food scraps from the 45,000 customers it serves each month. The company is currently looking for ways to reach a 90% diversion rate.

For those in the planning stages of starting a composting program, Yannick Le Boulch, Director of Food & Beverage says, “Make sure that you get a waste audit if you are a large institution because it is beneficial to know how much you are actually wasting as a baseline.”

Learn how Q Center hasincorporated composting in their long history of environmental excellence at http://illinoiscomposts.org/our-work/restaurant-toolkit/spotlights.

Additional Info