Clean Plates at State Continues to Battle Food Waste at MSU

Food waste on college campuses is a national issue. The average college student generates 142 pounds of food waste a year, according to Recycling Works, a program in Massachusetts. Between the buffet-style meals, large trays and the “out of sight, out of mind” disconnect provided by the conveyor belt, students and guests are often detached from the environmental and social impacts of their waste.

Post-consumer waste is a concern at Michigan State University, as it is for dining operations across the country. That’s why each fall semester, the RHS Sustainability Office and MSU Culinary Services team up to track food waste and educate students and guests through the Clean Plates at State program.

Michigan State University’s Clean Plates at State program is a food waste study that started in the 2012 spring semester. The latest chapter of the study, which began September 2017 and ended November 2017, measured food waste during lunch and dinner at each dining hall and during late-night hours at Wilson Hall.

In total, the study ran 34.5 hours, in four-hour increments, during which 2,404.31 pounds of post-consumer food waste were measured. This is equivalent to 70 pounds of post-consumer food waste per hour. By taking the average food waste per patron – 3.08 ounces (equivalent to one slice of pizza) – and multiplying it by the number of people who enter dining halls in one semester, a post-consumer food waste of 535,072 pounds was estimated for fall 2017.

This information was presented to MSU Culinary Services in April 2018. Collaboration between Culinary Services and the student body is one way to decrease post-consumer food waste.

Here are ways Culinary Services and RHS Sustainability is encouraging patrons to help decrease food waste at MSU dining halls:

  • MSU students and visitors are encouraged to try new dishes at dining halls, but it is recommend to ask for a sample instead of committing to a full plate.
  • Another option is to visit to view dining hall menus beforehand. This allows guests to plan what they would like to eat and spend less time in line.
  • Guests are encouraged to try going without a tray, as it not only allows them to go back for round two if still hungry, but also gives their brain and stomach a chance to communicate. Trayless dining also helps conserve water and energy.
  • Those interested in volunteering with the Clean Plates at State program are encouraged to contact Carla Iansiti and/or Elizabeth Lytle at

Culinary Services and RHS Sustainability also encourages patrons to think about what they are eating. If it is a slice of pizza: Where did the cheese, dough, sauce and meat come from? If it is a salad or hamburger: Where do the mixed greens or meat come from? MSU is unique because of MSU Dairy, MSU Meat and Bailey Greenhouse. These entities provide dining halls with many ingredients and products to make meals. When patrons become aware of the many resources that go into making a meal, this emphasizes food value.

Food waste can be a difficult topic, as no one is keen on taking responsibility for waste. However, it is no one persons’ burden. Everyone is able to take part in battling food waste.

For information about the 2018 Clean Plates at State program, visit