‘Know more, waste less’
“As future leaders in the food and agriculture industry, we believe it is our social responsibility to consume and produce food in a conscientious manner.”CFAES PhD student Aishwarya Badiger
Food waste rotting in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas that makes climate change worse. But a group of CFAES students is doing its part to fight the problem—starting at home on the Ohio State campus.
The student members of Know Food Waste (KFW) are committed to two missions: first, to educate people about reducing food waste, and second, to explore ways to help right on campus.
“We all believe in the urgent need of sustainable living, and taking actions on a personal level to better utilize precious resources,” co-founder Aishwarya Badiger said.
The 2020–21 executive board of Know Food Waste meets to celebrate the group’s past year’s achievements, April 2021.
Such actions “can help alleviate food insecurity and climate change, and more importantly, can help meet the increasing demand for food globally,” she said.
Know Food Waste as a whole was recently honored too, taking home the CFAES 2021 Student Organization of the Year Award in May.
Badiger and fellow students Katie Williamson and Jeff Caminiti, both also PhD candidates in the Department of Food Science and Technology, started Know Food Waste in spring 2019.
Collecting, composting, upcycling
Since then, the group’s activities have included launching a food waste drop-off program in conjunction with Ohio State’s Zero Waste team, funded by a 2020 Ohio State Energy Partners grant. By paying a modest fee, students, faculty, and staff can take their household food waste to a designated station. From there, instead of going to a landfill, the waste is diverted to be turned into compost, a beneficial soil amendment.
Another project aims to rescue and upcycle the 400 or so bagels thrown away every week by Ohio State’s campus dining locations. The bagels, while a couple of days old, are still safe to eat. But by teaming up with the student-run Ohio State Food Recovery Network, KFW’s members hope to turn the currently wasted bagels into good to eat, long shelf-life bagel chips.
Know Food Waste members Kym Man, left, and Olivia Severyn pose while distributing buckets and liners to new participants in the group’s food waste composting drop-off program.
The plan also calls for the bagels-turned-chips to go full circle at the end, returning to be sold at the dining locations as snacks for hungry Buckeyes. It’s a possible model for similar efforts at campuses across the country.
“As future leaders in the food and agriculture industry, we believe it is our social responsibility to consume and produce food in a conscientious manner,” Badiger said.
She answers a few more questions in the following Q&A.
How, why they connected
Q: How did you, Katie, and Jeff come together to start the group?
A: Each of us was working on research projects related to food waste in some way. Passionate conversations among us about this topic led to us thinking about food waste within the food industry and at Ohio State. We recognized the need for this conversation especially among students/future leaders, and decided a student organization was the best way to lead food waste reduction initiatives at Ohio State and increase awareness about the topic.
Q: What’s the idea behind the group?
A: Reducing food waste has been identified by Project Drawdown as the first most impactful solution to climate change. Food waste causes detrimental effects on the environment, while also contributing to food insecurity. In founding Know Food Waste, we wanted to compel all individuals to think about the topic of food waste and to take action. Through education, people have the tools to make meaningful decisions about how they consume and dispose of food.
Our tagline is, “Know More, Waste Less,” and that sums up our two missions.
Q: What’s the support been like from CFAES?
A: We have wonderful faculty support from the college. Our club advisor, Dr. Brian Roe in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, has been a constant resource and supporter. [Roe also leads the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative.] Within the Department of Food Science and Technology, KFW has received support and encouragement from many faculty members and staff.
Q: Why is the issue of food waste so important to the group?
A: Our e-board and club members are passionate about mitigating food waste for a variety of personal reasons, including the influence from a family culture of wasting a lot or very little; recognition of the societal, economic, and environmental impact of unused crops; or other personal experiences with food insecurity or climate change that have influenced their desire to limit food waste.
A pivot after the pandemic started
Q: How did the pandemic change things for the group?
A: Apart from all our educational efforts moving to a virtual format, the biggest change has been in our composting initiatives. In early 2020, our team was leading the implementation of a zero-waste initiative at the Parker Dairy Store café, where many students, faculty, and staff from CFAES would purchase breakfast, snacks, and lunch. This initiative involved composting front-of-house waste in collaboration with the Zero Waste team in Ohio State’s Facilities and Operations Development (FOD) unit. We applied for and received a $14,000 grant from Ohio State Energy Partners to implement the first-ever front-of-house café composting program using a data-driven approach. However, due to COVID, the café shut down, and we had to pivot away from the original plan.
Members of Know Food Waste display their creations—fun art made from waste coffee grounds and old condiments from takeout orders—during a pre-COVID-19 general meeting in January 2020.
With the help of our student leaders—Kym Man, Katie Williamson, and myself—our composting committee, and FOD’s Zero Waste team, we decided to pivot our original idea and take the composting program home to people by launching a compost drop-off program. The Ohio State Compost Drop-off Program officially launched on April 1 of this year. Participants collect their household compostable waste in a lined bucket, then drop it off at FOD’s designated compost drop-off site at 2560 Kenny Road on a weekly to bi-weekly basis, depending on the individual’s schedule and needs. The program has a four-month cycle to tailor to students’ semester schedule. Participants have the option to sign up for composting on a semester-by-semester basis.
With this, we are bringing composting to people’s new work-from-home environment and offering them a convenient option to drop off compostable waste on campus at a subsidized rate, encouraging socially responsible behavior for our environment.
Prior to launching the official program, we introduced a composting pilot program to 10 participants to assess the feasibility of the drop-off program and collect valuable feedback for improving the program design and structure. We wanted to ensure that we have the capacity and resources to handle compost from more participants—100-plus—in the expanded program.
‘We can each make an impact’
Q: What are the messages the group wants to share? What do you hope people learn or do?
A: The biggest source of food waste in the entire food system is our own households. We often overlook small amounts being trashed, but they quickly add up to 133 billion pounds of food in the landfills every year. This contributes to an extremely large amount of greenhouse gases. We can each make an impact on climate change by being conscientious of what we’re purchasing, consuming, and throwing out. Like food waste, these efforts also quickly add up.
Composting at home, for example, can very easily make you a part of a bigger movement toward sustainable living.
Don’t stop pursuing ideas you believe in. You can find support to build on your passions!
Q: What has inspired you the most about being in the group?
A: I am constantly inspired by the resilience and passion of our members. We have lots of great ideas, most of which have been challenged due to regulations or long-lasting effects of the pandemic. Yet after every obstacle, we continue to remain passionate and keep pursuing what we believe in. This is how we have been able to accomplish so much in a short span of two years, amidst a global pandemic. Our group functions around a mission, and that gives our club a startup-like feel, which we all really enjoy.
Q: Got any advice for your fellow students?
A: Never underestimate the power of students to inspire change!
Visit the group’s website at org.osu.edu/knowfoodwaste.
Interview by Kurt Knebusch, CFAES Advancement. Top photo, Getty Images. All other photos courtesy of Aishwarya Badiger.