Dear Sustainable Abigail,

I am very confused about where our food waste goes to be turned into compost once a plate is put on the revolving dish rack. Does it stay on campus? Does it go to a nearby farm? Is it even composted?

Many thanks,

Confused in Commons

Dear Confused in Commons,

This is a great question! Commons is cool in that it’s one of the most sustainable parts of the Bates campus, a title that the Commons workers strive hard to maintain. In fact, they are so successful at sustainability that they divert more than half of the solid waste from ending up in landfill! In regards to tackling food waste, there are three neat elements. Speaking first to your main concern, all of the post-consumer food waste is given to a pig farmer in Poland, ME, (or more specifically, given to the pigs of the pig farmer). However, even before we diners reach the point of having food leftover on our plate, Dining Services tackles the issue of food leftover in the kitchen prep process through a program with a farm in Lisbon, ME. Finally, there is the issue of extra food that made it out of the kitchen but didn’t make it onto a plate. This waste is resolved through a community outreach program, in which the extra food is prepared and shared with local homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

As you can see, Dining Services is sensitive to the food waste in Commons every step of the way. Yet, these processes are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Commons’ sustainability. For example, even the packaging of the food purchased is carefully considered to avoid any unnecessary contribution to solid waste quantity. Dining Services tries when possible to buy locally produced products, such as Oakhurst milk, fresh meat, and fresh produce when in season. In fact, Commons is now even a part of the Green Restaurant Association, aiding them in making environmentally informed purchasing decisions. To find out even more about Commons’ contribution to sustainability efforts, you can visit www.bates.edu/dining/who-we-are, or you can sign up on BatesToday to participate in a tour of Commons offered every Monday.  There are a lot of ways that Bates Dining Services contributes to a more sustainable campus beyond their sensitivity to food waste; we have a lot to thank them for.

Nonetheless, it’s still just as important for us to take initiative in our daily actions and join in the sustainability movement on campus. From only the food left on our plates every day, Commons sends the equivalent of 100 full meals to the pig farm. Although the food is used as pig feed, and therefore not being entirely wasted, this is a lot of food that could have been reused in Commons or sent to the homeless shelters. So, it’s important that we students are only taking as much food as we can eat (the walk from the tables to the food isn’t that long, there’s no need to stock up and not eat it all!), and helping Commons minimize food waste as well. Fortunately, “No Waste November” has just begun, a time when we can all come together as a campus and cut back on waste.

Throughout November, the Ecoreps will be having events to increase awareness about the impacts of waste and the importance of sustainability. One such is a showing of A Place at the Table on November 8, a documentary that explores the affliction and implications of hunger in the United States.

By being cognizant of our contribution to food waste and waste in general, we are important participants both in Commons sustainability as well as Bates sustainability in general, so let’s keep at it together!

Thanks for writing!

-Sustainable Abigail