Student groups advocate for food waste reduction, sustainability
There is much more to a compost bin than meets the eye. The bins, located in eateries and dining halls across campus, are the result of an extensive campaign and collaboration between student groups and Stanford Dining to create a more sustainable food system on campus.
Along with the compost bins, many of the steps taken towards a more sustainable university have been the result of institutionalized, student-led efforts that have gained momentum. These include the efforts of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS), currently led by co-presidents Anna Doty ‘12 and Alexander Luisi ‘12. SSS promotes sustainability both on and off campus, taking a holistic approach to environmentally sustainable practices, from raising awareness to waste reduction.
“We take all the waste from one building, like one of the buildings in Main Quad,” Luisi said. “We separate the compost, recyclables and waste, [then] weigh it out and put it on display in White Plaza, so everyone can see just how much waste they are creating and how much trash can actually be composted or recycled.”
SSS often collaborates with Stanford Dining on issues of food waste and sustainability.
“During large-scale events, such as NSO’s [New Student Orientation] Zero-Waste Lunch, SSS members help staff the event and educate those who attend,” Doty said. “It is important to have Stanford Dining on board with us, because it is the most visible outlet in the way students interact with and see how waste is handled on campus.”
Other groups work toward food sustainability at Stanford too. The Stanford Farm Project (SFP), a group founded in the spring of 2010, originated from a push for an educational farm on campus.
“We realized our interests and goals stretched far further than this initial [educational] effort,” said Jenny Rempel ‘12, a farmer, active member of the group and current Daily columnist. “So we decided to form a larger organization focused on advocating for more just and sustainable food systems on campus and beyond.”
The group has worked with SSS and Stanford Dining on coordinating composting awareness weeks, and it is currently in the planning stage of a green labeling campaign for eateries on campus. However, the work toward creating a more sustainable food system at Stanford is not without challenges.
“Campaigns to change campus policies are often long struggles,” Rempel said. “It can be hard to sustain student momentum over multi-quarter or multi-year projects.”
According to Luisi, there is a host of other challenges student groups face in promoting their work.
“Stanford’s campus is very decentralized,” Luisi said. “You have different academic departments, Stanford Dining and independent eateries, which all have different waste policies. This is further complicated with the purchasing practices from vendors, who all have different contracts with the university when it comes to what kind of silverware, food and containers to sell, among other things.”
This current state of decentralization makes implementing a blanket waste policy for Stanford difficult. However, both student groups remain optimistic. The University is currently working on creating a Stanford Long-Term Sustainability Plan–a general list of goals to become a zero-waste campus.
“We, the students, are the customers of the University,” Doty said. “If we demonstrate there is something we want on campus, our voices will be heard.”
Doty also stressed the importance of student involvement in the further development of sustainable food systems at Stanford, noting that even a zero-waste campus would require a large amount of energy and resources for transporting the waste off campus and processing it.
“Having students take ownership of our campus and where we are sending our waste is just as important as the efforts being made at the institutional level,” Doty said. “Change keeps on coming because students are pushing for it.”