Fostering Our Food Conscience: The Clean Plate Initiative

By Sarah Wallace, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Compost Intern Monica Cooper ''14 takes a break from taking people''s silverware to pose for a photo in front of the food sorting bin. (Photo by Sarah Wallace)

A student getting help sorting his food into the bins by one of the volunteers at dinner (Photo by Sarah Wallace)

This graph details how many pounds of waste were collected during seventh week (Graph provided by the sustainability interns)

Seniors Monica Cooper and Charlotte Steele are making a visible impact on reducing the food waste in Kalamazoo College’s cafeteria. This is the Clean Plate Initiative.

“With this new quarter and this new dining service, we are trying to create new habits,” said Steele.

These students and volunteers asked people to sort out their leftover waste in the cafeteria. Waste was sorted into bins labeled “napkins,” “edibles,” “non-edibles,” and “liquids”.

The Clean Plate Initiative is a combination of both Cooper’s and Steele’s ideas. Cooper is one of two Compost interns and Steele is the Sustainability Intern hired by Creative Dining.

Their plan is part of a three week initiative.

Over the first week, Cooper and Steele’s goal has been to collect and weigh students’ leftover plate items in the cafeteria at dinner. With the help of volunteers from both Farms to K and EnvOrg, they have measured just how much edible food the students at K are throwing away.

The results the volunteers have gathered are tangible and real. Each night, the napkins have weighed about 7 pounds. On Monday, Oct. 8, they collected 145 pounds of edible food waste. On Tuesday, they weighed out 100 pounds.

For the second week, they are asking students to sign a poster pledging that they will aim to reduce food waste by taking only what they can eat for the rest of the school year.

In the final week, the plan is to again collect and weigh everyone’s food waste. The interns will compare these weights with the weights of the first week.

“We’re going to run the audit again and, ideally, have less food waste… I think when people see the difference they will’ve made in just three short weeks, it will be empowering to students,” said Steele.

The pounds of food waste have decreased even within the first week. From Monday, Oct. 28, 145 pounds were collected and by Friday, there were only 60 pounds of waste.

The bins students scrap their food into are transparent, so people can see the food waste piled high. Just the presence of these waste collectors seems to bring a heightened awareness to K student eating habits.

Both Cooper and Steele have received a wide range of reactions from students to their sudden appearance in the cafeteria.

“Some people are annoyed that they have to stand there for an extra 10 seconds but, on the other side, you’ve got people thanking you for doing this, and so, we see the whole range of reactions,” said Cooper.

Though reactions have varied, it is evident that all of the students are becoming more food conscious as a result of the presence of these students in the cafeteria. And with an open mind towards eating habits, as well as towards the cafeteria in general, everyone benefits.

“Creative Dining has been really, really supportive of our ideas. And ultimately, cutting down on food waste is less costly for all of us, ending up benefitting them, us as students, and the environment,” said Steele.