The $13-million overhaul of UB’s busiest dining hall made it clear: The university is committed to providing students with fresh, delicious and healthy food.
What’s not as obvious, yet just as important, is UB’s effort to make the rehabbed dining hall, dubbed Crossroads Culinary Center, mesh with its plan to be one of the nation’s most eco-friendly universities.
Food service doesn’t end at the table; leftovers and scraps must be disposed of. Doing so in an environmentally responsible way—especially at Crossroads, where 2,000 students eat daily—can be a daunting task.
“The challenges were obvious, but we asked what will make UB better and what makes sense for the larger community,” says Jeff Brady, director of Campus Dining and Shops, the company that runs Crossroads, also known as C3, and many other on-campus eateries.
The answer was to develop a way to handle tons of food waste in an effective and environmentally conscious manner. The problem: University leaders couldn’t find existing models to guide their efforts. As a result, they turned to a program started by UB students.
Students already were collecting food scraps, albeit on a much smaller scale, from dining halls for a compost pile near the John Beane Center on the North Campus. But their enthusiasm for the idea soon exceeded the ability to carry it out.
That led Campus Dining and Shops to pick up the program, transforming student zeal into an effort that also transformed food waste into something that UB could give to the larger community: compost.
“The university developed a new food-service model that addressed not only the quality of the product, but how to reduce our carbon footprint by addressing our pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste,” says Ray Kohl, marketing manager for Campus Dining and Shops. “We knew it was a viable option.”
The 5-gallon pails students once carried across campus were replaced with a 32-foot, stainless steel channel at Crossroads.
Known as the “canal,” the channel moves food waste along its length by recirculating water. It’s the first step in a recycling process before the waste is taken to one of two food composters on campus where it is heated and dehydrated. The result is a soil amendment that is free to faculty, staff, students and community organizations.
“We can’t keep it in our building,” says Thomas Ludtka, UB commissary manager who leads the composting efforts. “And that’s sometimes with as much as 16,000 pounds on hand at any one time.”
Tons of material once dumped in landfills now is used to fortify area gardens. The compost looks like mulch but it is not a top dressing, Ludtka says, and will support plant growth on its own.
“I’ve been using it for the last couple of years,” says David Marotta of Aramark, a vending contractor at UB. “I just mix it in with the soil. The results are awesome. My vegetables are all more vibrant. It makes a big difference.”
By diverting what once was treated as waste into the composters, UB fills significantly fewer trash bins and reduces the truck traffic needed to collect those bins.
Other schools across the country have taken notice and Kohl says many have contacted or visited UB to get a closer look at the program. It’s critical to look at food as a system that doesn’t end at our plates, Kohl says.
“What we don’t use can be returned to the earth and come back as more food to feed us,” he says.
Across UB, people with bright ideas are working to reduce the collective footprint we make on the environment. Students are in the midst of planning a new campus garden. Faculty and staff are launching an Undergraduate Academy focused on sustainability.
It’s what we do every day — not just on Earth Day. It’s who we are. Visit UB’s sustainability website to find out how you can get involved.
Have you ever wondered how much energy UB consumes?
A new dashboard system in the works will enable anyone to monitor — in real time — how UB buildings are using electricity, water, heat and other resources. The dashboards, which will be available online and at selected locations around campus, will enable people to compare past and current usage, and to see what UB’s consumption costs in dollars and harm to our planet.
The system should be in place in fall 2013, says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer. The primary goal is to encourage people to think about their own behavior, and to empower them to find ways to lower UB’s environmental footprint.