By Liz Bosarge, IFSC Board Member

Every year, UIC offers a sustainability class, US 390, which offers undergraduate students a framework to apply classroom learning to project-based engagement. This past spring, UIC’s Sustainability Office hosted interns Fern and Sean to work on zero waste initiatives, including a food waste collection in one of UIC’s cafeterias. Together, they diverted 81.7 lbs. of post-consumer food waste from the landfill through peer-to-peer outreach and education, getting over 430 students to scrape their plates into compost collection bins placed near the dish return window. They did this over a handful of Fridays during the semester. This initiative shed a light on the amount of food that is prepared and goes uneaten every day and also provided an opportunity to educate people on what can be done with the food that remains on plates. The initiative was warmly received by students dining in the cafeteria who didn’t know that UIC composted food waste. Staff who work in the kitchen also encouraged the program and appreciated that they were receiving plates that were a little cleaner.

Fern and Sean with posters

The most interesting finding that came out of this project was on the day the dishwasher broke down, meaning that the dining services could not provide students the usual washable plates and utensils. What they provided was a mix of disposable and compostable serveware for the students to use. This caused some confusion when student diners finished their meals and went to dispose of the serveware. Busy students didn’t have the bandwidth or time to stand there and sort what goes in the compost and what could not, so they either dumped everything in the trash or tried to hand it to Fern and Sean to figure out.

students observing contents of bins

This summer, UIC dining plans to purchase a new dishwasher (the old one is about 35 years old) and plans to purchase only compostable plates and utensils for the rare occasions when the new dishwasher is out of service. UIC dining also welcomes this food scrap collection and diversion initiative to continue in the fall term to provide education to the student body about food waste and composting.

compost bin with sign