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Biology 111-D: Food Waste

By: Morgan, Nathan, Lyssa, Darrell, Kyle, Joe and Annie


More than 25% of food produced for human consumption in the US is wasted.

The USDA reports that in 1995, there was more than 91 billion pounds of edible food waste. Of that 91 billion pounds:

  • 20% was fresh fruit or vegetables.
  • 15% was grain products.
  • 18% was milk, which is 1/3 of an 8 oz glass wasted perperson, per day.

US colleges and universities generate 3.6 million tons of waste per year, or about 2% of the country’s total waste. Of that 3.6 million, food accounts for 10-20% of waste. On some campuses food is the second largest waste after paper.

The USDA also reports that decreasing food loss in the US by 25% would make enough food available to feed 20 million people.


Compost: A rind is a terrible thing to waste.

One possible alternative would be to do as Thomas L. Richard, a biological engineer in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science. Richard gave a workshop on Food Scrap Composting, coining the clever phrase above.

Some food-scrap composting systems are as simple and passive as piles of food mixed with bulking materials such as wood chips, according to Richard. The slow process of composting can be sped up by mechanical aeration, in which machines turn piles of waste or blowers introduce air to accelerate the decomposition. Open composting facilities take up space and don’t always make the best neighbors, Richard noted, so the state-of-the-art in an increasingly crowded worlds are the high-intensity, in-vessel systems. Restaurant owners have the choice of keeping the vessels on-site for the approximately two months required for finished compost or they can have the vessels periodically hauled away and replaced by empty ones.

Food-scrap composting experiments at Cornell are conducted in two-story tall vessels where researchers continuously monitor gas levels, moisture, temperature and other key factors. There is plenty of food waste available from dining halls at the 18,000-student university. But for the sake of science, the researchers use something that nutritionally mimics the average composition of college fare – dog food. Mixed with wood chips to provide carbon and watered for moisture, the fat-laden dog food gives the scientists compost so rich and black it would make an organic gardener green with envy.

One place where food composting, done right is getting a good name is New York’s state prison system. With technical assistance from the Cornell Waste Management Institute, Resource Management Director James I. Marion of the New York State Department of Correctional Services oversees a food-scrap composting operation that diverts 9,600 tons of organic material a year from the waste stream. Some of the prison food compost is used to enrich soil at the prison farms or in landscaping around prisons, while tons more are donated to schools, libraries and municipal building where the compost is applied by inmate work details. Recycling food from 69 correction facilities makes the New York operation the largest single food-scrap composting operation in the United States and probably in the world.

Suggestions and Benefits:

  1. Reduced landfill tipping fees and hauling charges for cafeteria food waste.
  2. Incorporating the food waste with the current Agricultural-composting program produces a higher quality product.
  3. 700 tons annually of food scraps are being diverted from landfill disposal.
  4. Composte can be used on farm fields in place of chemical fertilizers.
  5. Farm Services soils are improved and enhanced by the addition of compost.
  6. The site provides working model for others interested in large scale composition. (hint, hint)

Look at this!!!!!!

There are 150 tons of food waste a year at Calvin College, which includes Knollcrest, Commons and Johnny’s Café.

Specifically at Commons there are 25 sixty gallon garbage cans a day to be compacted.