EPA honors Clark University for food waste recycling efforts

Clark University is among seven New England colleges and universities recently honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with Food Recovery Challenge Achievement Awards.

The Food Recovery Challenge invites organizations nationwide to save money through reducing, purchasing and lowering disposal fees for unconsumed food; supporting their community by diverting wholesome surplus food to feed people, not landfills or incinerators; and reducing their environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable food management. This program complements food waste recovery efforts by partnering with New England state environmental agencies.

“Clark Dining Services is extremely proud of the Food Recovery Challenge award, which is a testament to the partnership between the Sodexo Dining Services Team, Clark Physical Plant staff and Clark students, all of whom play an important role in our sustainable journey,” said Heather Vaillette, general manager of Clark Dining Services.

The University’s sustainability coordinator, Jenny Isler, added, “Sustainable Clark is a collaboration of the entire Clark community pulling together to reduce our environmental impact — and the Food Recovery Achievement Award is a perfect example of our collaborative strength. Clark Dining Services deserves the full honor for their remarkable efforts to decrease Clark’s environmental impact by composting more than 200 tons per year and to reduce overall food waste through their innovative management practices.”

After paper, discarded food comprises the greatest volume of waste generated in the United States. In fact, “waste food” is really a misnomer. In many cases, surplus food comes off of shelves while it is still good, nutritious and safe, and is sent to landfills. This food could potentially feed millions of Americans, according to both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA. In 2010, more than 14 percent of households in the U.S. did not have regular access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

“These New England colleges and universities are setting a great example by preventing more than 2,528 tons of food scraps from disposal by using them for higher and better uses, including food donation and composting,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office. “Food Recovery Challenge Achievement Award winners are using food to feed people, not disposal facilities.”

Food and food scraps that are not fit for consumption and donation can be used to feed the soil by composting or added to anaerobic digestion facilities, which produce biogas that can be used for energy. In 2010, 34 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 3 percent being diverted to composting. When excess food, leftover food and food scraps are disposed of in a landfill, they decompose rapidly and become a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Instead, anaerobic digestion facilities capture the gas and use it for electricity or for combined heat and power.

The Food Recovery Challenge is part of the EPA's Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials throughout its entire lifecycle.

The other schools recognized by the EPA for significantly cutting food waste below previous years’ levels include Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Suffolk University, Middlebury College, Keene State College and the University of New Hampshire, Durham campus.

The awards were presented at both the March 28 “Vermont Organics Recycling Summit” and the April 1 “MassRecycle R3 Conference,” where more than 550 recycling experts, enthusiasts and private/public sector decision makers attended the annual conference and tradeshows, sharing information and learning about recycling, including information focused on Increasing food waste recovery.