There is no argument that we have seen the life-threatening impacts of climate change over the past few years.
Food loss and waste in particular is an understated contributor to climate change. Understandably, most believe that since food waste degrades much fast- er than plastics, throwing away a plate of leftovers is really not that harmful to the environment. Unfortunately, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gases emitter — showing it to be a key pillar contributing to climate change. Therefore, reducing food waste, especially meat, must be done on a community-scale if we want more immediate improvements.
The University’s Sustainable Food Policy outlines policies aimed at “reducing food miles, food waste, and carbon footprint of our food. Since this is my third year in St Andrews, I wanted to see whether the University has followed through with their new policies and made changes in their halls’ catering services to become more sustainable.
1. Food Waste
Overall, it seems that compared to the past few years, the University has made numerous attempts to reduce food waste while also trying to satisfy the students’ needs in food variation and quality.
Trays that once carried several plates of salads, meat, and desserts have now transformed to one large plate to subconsciously nudge students to be more careful in the amount of food they collect and discourage leftovers. Halls are also separating their food waste in order to ensure that most of the waste are being composted instead of going straight to the landfill.
Nonetheless, the fact that there is still a lot of food waste being produced by the halls demonstrate that the catering service, Residential and Business Services (RBS), is still struggling to assess the amount of food that the students in each hall need. In order to satisfy the quantity and variation of food for the students, RBS orders as much as possible; however, this excess food contributes to emissions as they use unnecessary capital and energy resources. Catered students may not grasp the amount of wasted food thrown away by halls, but a student working for RBS shares: “I can see a divide between students wanting all the options available while the chefs attempt to minimise the wasted food. The thought of giving away the waste food has crossed my mind — as it does with anyone on their first shift as they realise how much food is thrown away — but there appears to be laws against the redistribution of this food which is preposterous.”
It is important to highlight that the best solution for food waste is calling for the University and RBS to redistribute leftovers to townspeople (or those in need). However, their fear of being sued if the food gets someone sick prevents this change from happening. Therefore, policies should be put in place to protect RBS if the University truly wants St Andrews to “reduce their carbon footprint of our food.”
2. Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Though halls have always had vegetarian and vegan options in previous years, the University’s policy states that they intend to “increase the sales of food from plant origin as an alternative to meat and dairy, focusing on the health, wellbeing and environmental benefits.” Large sized halls, like DRA, still seem to maintain their menu of having two meat options, one vegetarian option and one vegan option, showing not much change from the catered students’ perspective. On the other end, students in John Burnet Hall have noticed the increase in vegetarian and vegan options in comparison to the previous years, especially in the sandwich bar, revealing that RBS must be applauded for following through with the policies set by the University.
3. Bottles and Cups
The University’s policy declares that they intend to “minimise the use of plastic water bottles on campus.” They seem to follow through with this policy since, as of July 2019, the University has installed a glass bottling service and self-service water dispense units, allowing an estimated saving of 40,000 single-use plastic bottles of water. While plastic bottles of water are nowhere in sight in the halls’ cafeterias, the availability of paper cups is a criticism I hold against the RBS. A student working for RBS reveals: “For a year at my hall, they removed paper cups for teas and coffees, forcing students to bring in their own reusable mugs or to use the white mugs that are available; however, it seems that the paper cups have returned.”
It seems that RBS has followed the University’s new policies in striving for a more sustainable catering service, and for that they must be applauded. Nevertheless, these improvements may be limiting due to RBS’ priority for students’ satisfaction, and therefore in- creased conversation with the students must be prioritized if we want to move towards sustainability as a community.