UC Berkeley aims to produce ‘minimal’ food waste amid virtual semester

Photo of Crossroads Dining Hall
Maya Valluru/File
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, campus entities such as Cal Dining have continued engaging in efforts to minimize UC Berkeley’s food waste. One of the campus efforts included supplying students currently residing in residential halls with their own set of reusable utensils.

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To most students residing off-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, away from the bustling dining halls and the ever-crowded campus cafes, food waste may not be a top priority. On campus, however, Cal Dining and other campus entities continue to work toward reducing the amount of food UC Berkeley wastes.

Lin King, manager of Cal Zero Waste, said the closure of campus eateries and fewer campus events have lowered food waste.

“On campus the food waste has been minimal during the pandemic as all of the cafe and eateries have been closed and very little catering is occuring,” King said in an email.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Adam Ratliff said Cal Dining is continuing to “actively” engage in practices to reduce food waste.

Campus still implements pre-pandemic programs, including donating food to the UC Berkeley Food Pantry or local nonprofit organizations, encouraging students to only take what food they need through an annual “weigh-your-waste” event and partnering with Cal Zero Waste to compost or correctly sort waste in the dining halls.

According to Ratliff, Cal Dining also works with Republic Services in Richmond to create soil out of waste. The program involves placing compost bins across campus and creating to-go containers for food made of bagasse — leftover canes from sugar cane plants — Ratliff added. Another program at Cal Dining involves collaboration with an external vendor to convert the kitchens’ used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Students currently living in the residence halls were also supplied with their own set of reusable utensils to further reduce waste, according to the Cal Dining website.

Since the pandemic began, additional steps have been taken by Cal Dining to continue this reduction, Ratliff added.

“We’ve reduced the volume of food produced to meet the more minor demands given the reduced number of residents living with us,” Ratliff said in an email. “We expect more residents in the fall and ramp the volume back up while still encouraging some of the practices mentioned above.”

Prior to the pandemic, Cal Dining already used “batch cooking” to cook food to order as people entered the dining halls to prevent food waste, according to Ratliff.

Currently, Cal Dining is purchasing and planning to implement a program called Leanpath in the coming summer.

“This technology would provide us the opportunity to weigh and categorize food waste on a per meal basis. The purpose of Leanpath is to bring awareness to our production staff and managers,” Ratliff said in the email. “This would allow us to make strategic changes to our processes that would reduce the pre consumer food waste.”

Additionally, Ratliff said, UC Berkeley committed to the United States’ “strongest” ban on plastic. The plan involves the elimination of nonessential single use plastics that have viable alternatives by 2030.

It also adds to previously existing plastic reduction plans that focus on foodwear or plastic bags, according to Ratliff, by targeting products used for campus research, events and academic purposes. The ban will also encompass chip bags and foam packaging, which may not usually be included in such initiatives, Ratliff said.

“This will push for upstream solutions and continue UC Berkeley’s leadership in sustainability,” Ratliff said in the email.

For students looking to personally reduce their food waste, Food, Equity, Entrepreneurship and Development, a food consulting group on campus, recommends meal prepping, according to its website. This enables students to purchase only what they will need for each recipe.

The group further suggests that students correctly store food to prevent it from spoiling, freeze or dry food close to spoiling or create a compost bin.

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.