Naba Ahmed | Mustang News

Cal Poly has made strides in high-tech agriculture programs and sustainability awareness, but food waste remains an issue on campus.

Zero Waste efforts from the university have been used to reduce food waste on campus. However, even with food waste bins helping to get Cal Poly’s waste to the right places, much of the community is still uninformed when it comes to sorting trash correctly.

However, the Food Science and Nutrition Department was awarded a nearly $250,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Needs and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program.

“Since Cal Poly isn’t doing so well [in that area], that’s good in terms of opportunities for research,” associate food science professor Amanda Lathrop said.

According to Lathrop, this grant will fund a new graduate program for food science and nutrition graduate students to conduct research on the broad spectrum of food waste and, hopefully, how to reduce it.

Lathrop said she believes changing food waste at Cal Poly comes down to awareness.

“Consumers are still confused as to what items can actually be recycled and what state they need to be in,” Lathrop said.  

The Zero Waste program, combined with efforts from Facilities and Campus Dining, is trying to tackle food waste at Cal Poly. Currently, 80 percent of the school’s food waste goes to a landfill, according to the latest data from 2015.

Even though food waste bins have been placed all around campus to give students the option as to where they throw away their trash, there is still confusion and students are not thoroughly educated, according to Lathrop.  

“You would think in this day and age, if there was food residue on a package, that they could still recycle it,” Lathrop said. “But it’s my understanding that it makes it difficult to recycle.”

The bins on campus are there to educate students and to let them to ultimately decide what happens to their food waste, according to the Zero Waste website.

“But people are lazy,” Lathrop said. “This new graduate program will hopefully make students more aware.”

According to Communications Specialist for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science AnnMarie Cornejo, the graduate program will allow students to solve agricultural and food waste problems through their studies.

Associate food science professor Stephanie Jung is an overseer of the new program.

“This program will expose fellows to an array of academic, intellectual and global themes,” Jung said. “Students will address the economic, environmental and social burden of food waste.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year. In 2015, the USDA launched the first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030.

With this new program, Cal Poly can set a real example for food waste reduction, Jung said.

The graduate program will hopefully pick up the pace of Cal Poly’s past sustainability efforts. The Zero Waste program set a goal of flipping the consumer waste diversion rate at Cal Poly from 80 percent landfill to 80 percent diversion by 2020.

Minimizing consumption of water and energy is critically important, Jung said, as the world population is estimated to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.

As that growth accelerates, so does the need to feed a growing population. At the same time, there are fewer natural resources to do so.

“Food scientists will play an essential role in reducing waste,” Jung said. “This program will provide students with a deeper understanding of the issues at stake.”

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