The Berea College Dining Program, a Sodexo-run operation has proactively stepped up efforts to prevent, not just divert, food and nonfood waste to landfills.

In a commitment to reduce organic waste, support local communities and lower its carbon footprint, Sodexo implemented a waste-prevention system at the Mountaineer Dining Hall in March 2012, according to David McHargue, general manager. In less than one year, the college was able to reduce its preconsumer food waste by 49 percent year over year and lower plate costs significantly. The waste-prevention system essentially paid for itself in less than 10 months.

The college has reinvested those savings to provide its students with a 4 percent increase in locally grown foods, without raising prices. "Berea College students are passionate about sustainability and investing in local foods," McHargue says. "The dining program wanted to offer its students more locally grown and raised foods, but these products are often more expensive. So the team looked for opportunities to cut costs and reinvest the saved money in the local foods program. They realized that there was a significant opportunity to reduce kitchen waste to meet that goal."

For years Berea College Dining had been weighing its pre- and post-consumer food waste in large batches, but it lacked detailed information, such as the specific items being wasted, reasons for the waste and times of day the waste occurred. By quickly and efficiently weighing all of its preconsumer kitchen waste with a scale connected to a touch-screen device, the dining program was then able to upload data to a reporting dashboard for a comprehensive view of their efforts. At that point, staff was also able to easily equate the preconsumer food waste prevention with a dollar amount.

The dining program also figured out new ways to use wasted scraps and produce. Instead of using lettuce heads to decorate trays, they now use celery tops. Vegetable trimmings are now used to make sauces or salsas. Chefs now work with other leftovers to modify menus.

"The eye-opening dollar figures challenged our team to think strategically about production and safe reuse," says McHargue.

Creating a waste-fighting culture was another important part of the process. Every member of the Berea Dining team knows that they play a role in the waste-reduction efforts, incorporating data tracking into daily production meetings and team huddles. The production team also receives incentives upon reaching reduction goals. "There is a healthy competiveness in the Berea kitchen that encourages every staff member to do their part to reduce waste," McHargue says.