66.5 million tons of food is wasted in the United States annually. The Clean Plates at State program at Michigan State University strives to combat this national issue. Clean Plates visits each MSU dining hall once per semester to conduct a food waste audit during peak hours. Food left on each diner's plates is weighed and documented using Protech registers connected to scales. With this information, Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) Sustainability is able to evaluate food waste per person in each dining hall as well as more qualitative information based on the specific food recorded as being wasted. Findings are communicated directly to dining hall staff to figure out why students aren’t enjoying a recipe.
The inaugural semester of Clean Plates ran during the spring semester of 2012. The average food waste per person during that semester came out to four ounces. During the most recent round of audits, it was discovered that food waste has fallen to 3.35 ounces per person. A change of 0.65 ounces per person may not sound like a lot, but with roughly 30,000 meals served every day across MSU, this amounts to saving 1,219 pounds of food per day in comparison.
Perhaps equally as important as the impact on food waste is the impact on the overall dining experience at MSU. Many hours spent communicating directly with diners allows RHS Sustainability to better understand what is important to dining hall guests. The collected information is not only used to decrease food waste but also to develop ways to create a more enjoyable dining experience overall.
MSU and MSU dining halls are dedicated to the students they serve. Through the Clean Plates at State audits, MSU and RHS Sustainability seize a vital opportunity to draw on their core value of connectivity. Allowing MSU diners to be more involved in the culinary process makes MSU a more receptive, enjoyable and sustainable collegiate community.
Results of the 2017 Clean Plates at State program can be found at rhs.msu.edu/news/.
For information about volunteering for the 2018 Clean Plates at State program, visit eatatstate.msu.edu.