As a part of the Food Recovery Challenge, a program initiated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce as much food waste as possible, the University of California, Riverside has pledged to reduce its own food waste by five percent over the course of a year.

“The Challenge is part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled and disposed,” according to the EPA website.

UCR is one of seven UC campuses and 17 statewide schools participating in the challenge. Over 40 colleges across the nation will also be involved, in addition to various grocers and entertainment venues, such as the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium.

“[The program] is an attempt [by] the EPA to encourage institutions to either compost food or better yet, if there is food that is still edible [then] send to some place that needs it,” stated John Cook, UCR Director of Sustainability, “So we already do that a bit on campus.”

At the request of the pacific southwest chapter of the EPA, UCR registered with WasteWise, a voluntary program which encourages sustainable waste management. The state of California falls under region nine or the Pacific Southwest, which also consists of Arizona, Hawaii, Pacific Islands and 148 Native American tribes. This chapter oversees eight different divisions such as: waste management, water, community and ecosystems.

“You [must] declare all the types of waste that you have and how much you’re reducing, how much you’re recycling or composting, what you’re sending to landfill, what you’re sending to waste and energy,” stated Cook, who noted that a projected financial baseline is develop through the savings and costs of each project.
Some of UCR’s past and ongoing efforts of food recovery include the R’garden at Lot 30, which is designed to produce food that may be donated. Also, at the end of the year when students are leaving for home, there have been drives to collect the food that students don’t want.

“We’ve composted close to 250 tons of pre-consumer food waste; all the trimmings and things when they’re preparing food,” Cook said. “Then we went to tray-less dining everywhere now on campus. It turns out people will take less food if they have to carry it on a plate instead of putting it on a tray. So, less food is wasted.”
Future efforts will include a campaign called “Recycle Mania” that will take place from January through March. This entails a competition between residence halls Aberdeen and Inverness, and Lothian, which will measure and compare their achievements in recycling. Running parallel with the competition is an awareness campaign that will focus on the dining areas and how much each person purchases as compared to what they actually consume.

“This is all a part of a holistic plan to be more responsible of how we use resources. It all has a cost analysis, it all has a social impact, [and] it all has an environmental impact. We’re always looking at those three. This year, we’re really putting an effort forward to get the campus to change its behavior,” said Cook.