Addressing Food Waste at University College Dublin, Ireland (2023 Sep)

AdministrationDietetic EducatorFoodservice
Education
Lack of InfrastructureLack of Support in the Professional Culture

At a glance

  • Two students undertook this as their final year project for the BSc in Human Nutrition at UCD and two students were working as work placement interns with the clinical nutrition and dietetics team at the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy & Sports Science.

Background:

Food waste is a global issue which carries many environmental and economic implications. An estimated 25-33%, or 1.3 billion tonnes, of food is wasted globally (1). The UN SDG of halving food waste by 2030 requires large scale action. Action in Ireland is guided by European directives to monitor and reduce food waste in line with the UN SDG goals (2).

Universities are settings with large populations and diverse expertise that could address food waste in meaningful and innovate ways. The student and staff population at UCD is over 30,000 with over 4000 beds provided for student residences on-campus. There are several large restaurants, numerous cafes and delis, coffee docks, 2 grocery shops, and other small vendors across the campus. Novel food vans park up once per week and during events or festivals. There are 4 main providers of catering to events and conferences across the campus. In short, UCD is akin to a large, bustling town with a food system to match.

UCD Estate services already has several supporting policies and programmes in place for sustainability. (3) UCD seeks the attainment of a sustainable, healthy and living campus and as such endeavours to manage the campus in a way that considers energy and water usage, waste management, sustainable commuting and biodiversity in all of its activities where relevant.

For students, there are opportunities to explore different aspects of the university food environment for the purpose of learning about food systems, waste, and what it all means for sustainability. To obtain a snapshot of the university campus, students focused on:

  • Food waste practices within a large university restaurant setting
  • Food waste knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours among students in residence on campus
  • Food waste within one staff building – the waste was collected, the students explored different methods of composting, and organised a living soil and composting workshop open to staff and students in collaboration with the community garden at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Lessons Learnt:

  • A pilot exploratory project helped to build diverse relationships across campus including with restaurant management, Green Campus, the community garden, food waste and sustainability researchers and initiate conversations about this topic.
  • Small projects can attract interested staff and students and support the sustainability of actions with willing volunteers (e.g. continuing composting).
  • Accessing students to complete a survey was challenging and on-campus residence initiatives to engage students will require additional time and creativity.
  • The most wasted food group in a large university restaurant was starches, followed by vegetables. Plate waste, rather than kitchen waste, were the focus of the study, therefore server and consumer level engagement around portions sizes and waste awareness may be the appropriate focus for intervention.
  • The team in nutrition and dietetics at UCD collaborate with Airfield Farm Estate, where they demonstrate opportunities for full composting of food waste on-site, creating valuable compost and fertiliser for their garden and food growing.
  • The study is being developed further (in 2023/2024) to engage more with students’ knowledge and attitudes and repeat the restaurant methods to obtain a full academic year snapshot.

What Else? Other Relevant Examples

Food for Thought
Educators and Students seem the ideal role models for reducing food waste.
What systems need to be in place to avoid waste?
What supports do universities need to reduce food waste?

Contact Information
Sarah Browne, sarah.browne1@ucd.ie

References:

1 – International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction 29 September

2 – Irish National Food Waste Prevention Roadmap 2023-2025 From Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications Published on 30 November 2022, Last updated on 30 January 2023 )

3 – Summary of UCD Sustainability Activities via Estates