Ohio State Students Reduce Food Waste, Increase Food Security

Last fall, I proposed the idea of a composting project on campus through my Learning Community, SUSTAINS (Students Understanding Sustainability and Taking Action to Improve Nature and Society). As members of SUSTAINS, we must come up with a project to improve sustainability on campus, and I thought composting would be a great place to start. A group of SUSTAINS members, including myself, Sarah Gabel and Sophie Pawlak, worked to implement composting in several dorms on North Campus.

We began working with Dr. Brian Roe of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE) to collect research on the success of composting in dorms, specifically how much and what types of compost we were able to collect. Dr. Roe also heads the OSU Food Waste Collaborative (FWC), which is a group of researchers, practitioners, and students working to improve food sustainability. The FWC promotes the reduction and redirection of food waste as an integral part of a healthy and sustainable food system. Dr. Roe and the FWC helped us get our research project started, and we reported back to them after compost collections. Compost bins were placed on every floor of three dorms on North Campus and the compost was collected weekly. We were able to divert just shy of 400 pounds of compost!

I care so much about compost because it is both an environmental issue and a justice issue. Research suggests that 40% of our food is wasted, and this comes not only as an economic loss, but also creates unnecessary food insecurity and other environmental issues. Wasted food could feed hungry mouths, but instead we send this food to landfills that disproportionately pollute different regions. Compost can be used to fertilize crops or on local farms, and it doesn’t release methane emissions as it would in a landfill. I don’t want to see pollution disproportionately affecting some communities, nor do I want to see people go hungry when we produce plenty of food to feed everyone. Wasting food not only makes more people food insecure, but also discards all of the resources that go into food production, such as water, fertilizers, carbon, etc., giving us an even larger carbon footprint. I study all of these things, as an Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability major, and the environmental issue that I am most concerned with is definitely environmental justice.

Compost helps draw attention to our wastefulness, and holds people accountable for the food they choose to throw away. I hope that we can make people more cognizant of their waste, and encourage them to compost food not only for environmental purposes, but also in hopes of changing consumption patterns for a more sustainable society. We need sustainability for people as much as we do for the environment, and my goal through this project is to make people aware of their environmental impacts and improve environmental justice by improving food security.

Sarah Grossman is a student in the Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability program in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University.