Giovanni DiMaggio, a senior in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences, won a $500 seed grant from [email protected] last semester when he created the Food for Every Terrier app in his Cross-College Challenge Class for Zero Waste. The app would allow leftover food from the George Sherman Union to be sold at a discounted price at the end of each day.
However, DiMaggio wrote in an email Oct. 6 he has been met with resistance and disinterest from University officials, specifically from BU Dining Services.
He noted that he and his team asked the University to provide data regarding their composting system but have been repeatedly denied.
“The data exists, as we have asked about it for months, but we were not allowed to view it,” DiMaggio wrote.
He wrote his team previously met with representatives from BU Sustainability and BU Dining only to be met with “hostility,” but added he does not blame some of the employees he spoke with who seemed to have their hands “tied.”
“BU dining and sustainability system is not keen to accept student’s opinions when it doesn’t fall in line with what’s easiest and most profitable for them,” DiMaggio noted.
He added that if the University were to support the project, it would make an enormous difference for students on a budget.
“Saving that amount of food for BU to resell at a discounted rate could save hundreds of dollars a year for students who need it most,” DiMaggio wrote.
Sarah Kaul, a senior in CAS, who worked on FfET alongside DiMaggio said they were given an Excel sheet by a GSU Panda Express employee that showed the amount of food waste produced per day ranged from 23 to 50 pounds.
“In a food court setting like we have at the GSU, specifically Panda Express, their pre-consumer food waste is largely going to include things such as unsold meals because they make such big portions of things and they just scoop it out,” Kaul said.
Kaul said she believes one reason BU Dining has hesitated to release data on their composting system is because the level of wastage is higher than they want to admit.
“When we presented it to them initially they were saying, ‘oh no, we’ve dealt with that, it’s up to our standards,’ but they’re kind of vague on what those standards are for the pre-consumer food waste,” Kaul said.
BU Dining wrote in an email that campus dining halls produce approximately 800 pounds of pre-consumer food waste daily, about 75% of which is “trim waste,” or scraps such as avocado pits, melon rinds and protein fat.
“Depending on the location, food waste is either composted or anaerobically digested,” the email stated. “When possible, we also recover surplus food for donation.”
DiMaggio noted BU’s current method of composting food — which involves transportation and fuel and energy to complete the process — is less environmentally friendly.
“It is generally agreed upon by environmental scientists that if food could be diverted from compost and straight into people’s mouths, it saves energy,” he wrote.
Dining Services added that implementing an additional app to order food besides GrubHub would be “complex and confusing.”
“We are instead focusing on ways we can minimize and prevent overproduction waste, whether it be cooking to order or in smaller batches or repurposing ingredients,” they wrote.
BU Dining added it uses a program called Leanpath to track and try to reduce food waste. According to BU Dining’s Sustainability Progress webpage, Leanpath is helping the University reach its goal of reducing overall food waste by 50% by 2023.
The email stated Leanpath has reduced average pre-consumer waste in the dining halls by approximately 30% per meal already.
CAS senior Jeanette Frazer said the University should donate leftover food after a certain time each night to local shelters.
“We’re also in a huge city where food insecurity is a huge problem and it seems counterproductive to mass produce a lot of food and then get rid of a lot of it when there’s so many people who literally can’t get a meal every day,” Frazer said. “It feels like a very easy solution.”
Dining Services said the University works with several donation programs including Food For Free, Rosie’s Place and the Student Food Rescue Program to donate excess food.
May Aon, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, is originally from Egypt and said food waste is a problem in the United States because people become desensitized to how much they are wasting.
“Hunger is an issue, but here [in the United States] specifically, [people] really don’t take into account the amount of food they waste,” Aon said.
Aon said students making an effort not to serve themselves too much food would cause significant change.
“You can always have a little bit and then go back and get more instead of having a lot and then wasting it,” Aon noted.
DiMaggio said the University should find ways to reduce food waste on campus without placing the responsibility of change on students.
“The current system places a lot of individual responsibility on the students to be as mindful as possible, which is important,” DiMaggio wrote. “However, it does not do enough to address that BU as a whole is the main polluter, not its students.”
He added his team has redirected his efforts to increasing the transparency of data regarding BU’s daily food waste and ensuring the app idea is carried on after he graduates.
“I will keep pushing this idea on and am now hoping that some fellow students from the new classes are willing to keep pushing FfET after I graduate in June 2022,” DiMaggio wrote.