On Feb. 2, the Campus Stewardship Committee (CSC) and Chartwells plan to begin Project Clean Plate. Project Clean Plate is a program that has been implemented on college campuses across the United States. Its goals are to “provide awareness of international hunger, help students to locally combat hunger, reduce waste, and save energy.” These are lofty goals, but come from a truly simple program.
The most obvious goal of Project Clean Plate is to waste less food. For the past week, Chartwells has been monitoring the weight of the food waste produced in the Great Hall. Over the next month as the program runs, Chartwells will continue to monitor waste while students will be making a conscious effort to throw away less.
Last year, a weeklong trial of project clean plate was conducted. The goal of the project was to reduce waste by 10 percent. Covenant students exceeded that percentage by more than double and reduced by 24 percent. This year, the goal is to reduce waste by 25 percent and maintain that for an entire month. Data will be gathered for the duration of the program and the results will be processed and revealed sometime before May. Once the amounts are totaled, Chartwells will donate food to the Chattanooga Food Bank in proportion to the food saved.
Students’ role in this process is easy: just think before you take. The Project Clean Plate website offers several tips to reduce waste: don’t choose less than you need, but “take what you’ll eat, and eat what you take.” If students know they’re not hungry, consciously create smaller portions rather than going on autopilot and getting more than a typical portion size. The website points out you can always go back for seconds if the first portion was too small.
The process of thinking about food serves to remind students about the global issue of hunger. By integrating information about waste with facts about hunger, there is a strange discrepancy: although globally a third to a half of food is wasted, 805 million people on Earth battle hunger according to the World Food Program. Not eating sandwich crusts doesn’t harm starving children, but choosing food wisely is key to honoring what God has given. Project Clean Plate provides students with a way to fight hunger locally. For every hundred pounds of waste reduced, Chartwells will donate a hundred pounds of food to a local food bank. By making an effort to not waste food, students are contributing to those who need help.
Rachel Dance, co-chair of the CSC, is excited about this program and its “potential to reduce our environmental impact on campus.” According to a USDA study, 30 percent of food produced in America is thrown away, which is significant for several reasons. Food waste is more complicated than taking out a couple extra trash bags; it is part of a system of production and disposal. The food production process requires large inputs of land, labor, water, and transportation to produce food that, because of waste practices, is destined for the dump. The most obvious result of food waste comes at the end of the process, when food waste represents a huge strain on the landfill system. Food decomposition produces methane gas, which is a stronger greenhouse than carbon dioxide. As an example of how severe these effects can be, the land that the US uses to produce food that is wasted is equivalent to the size of Mexico. Waste adds up fast.
Just as small pieces of waste add up fast, the same goes for small actions in waste prevention. Project Clean Plate may not solve world hunger or repair Earth’s ecosystems, but it can contribute to that process. If each of Covenant’s over 1000 students is a bit more careful about food choices for the next month, a significant amount of food can be donated to the shelter. Additionally, thoughtful food practices may become established that lead to long-term change. Reducing the Great Hall’s food waste by a fourth is completely within our grasp. The CSC encourages students that once they’ve reached the goal, they should continue the waste-conscious practice and make it their new norm. Programs like these are not designed to make a short term change and then go back to old habits. The CSC’s goals are to encourage waste strategies and thoughtfulness that can be applied throughout life.
“Change begins with small steps,” says Dance. “I believe this is an important move forward in being more conscious of the way we steward our resources well.”