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Can you finish your plate? Program encourages composting

The Empty Plate Challenge, a new composting initiative in Loyola’s dining halls, encourages students to reduce their waste after each meal by rewarding students for eating all their food.

Composting is the recycling of food scraps and other organic waste back into the soil to decompose or break down. The result is a nutrientrich soil product called compost. Loyola has engaged in a number of compost-friendly programs, namely the Bucket Program, a program that allows residents and faculty to compost in their daily lives.

Students can sign up to receive 1-gallon buckets that they keep in their dorms/apartments, where they can compost on their own (fill the bucket with food scraps to be composted, rather than trash it). Full buckets are collected each week and sent to a composting facility.

This month, volunteers Lauren Standal, from left, Whiley Rubin, Kelly Hof and Hanh Pham began collecting food for the Empty Plate Challenge.
This month, volunteers Lauren Standal, from left, Whiley Rubin, Kelly Hof and Hanh Pham began collecting food for the Empty Plate Challenge.

The Empty Plate Challenge encourages students to participate in the Bucket Program, which Department of Sustainability Compost Coordinator Hanh Pham

describes as “a way to engage students to compost their daily food scraps.”

Last academic year, the Bucket Program collected 1,880 pounds worth of scraps. This year, the program has already collected 643 pounds, Pham said.

With the success of the Bucket Program, students such as Whiley Rubin hope to bring more attention to the importance of food waste and composting, and ultimately encourage more students to participate to compost on their own.

Pham, along with Rubin, 22, the Compost Outreach intern, spearheaded the Empty Plate Challenge together. Rubin works under Pham, the compost coordinator She works with her on the various composting programs, and also in finding ways to encourage students to get involved. About a month ago, they began by conducting surveys to gauge people’s knowledge on composting, specifically at Loyola. Some of the questions of the surveys were: What is composting? Which dining halls compost?

From there, the Empty Plate Challenge took its roots. For a two hour window on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Rubin and other student volunteers have collected food from students’ dirty plates during each dining hall’s peak hours. Once a week, food scraps are collected at Simpson; at de Nobili, food scraps are collected up to three times a week.

The Empty Plate Challenge has collected food twice, during the weeks of Oct. 21 and Oct. 28. They collected during lunch in Simpson and during dinner in de Nobili.

During the lunches in which the Empty Plate Challenge has taken place, the volunteers collected an average of 37.5 pounds of scraps, according to Pham. At de Nobili, an average of 72.25 pounds of scraps was collected during the two dinners, Pham said.

These food scraps are divided into two different groups, Rubin said.

“There’s waste that’s actually food waste, like the stuff people just didn’t eat,” said the senior environmental studies major. “And then there’s also the waste that would have been waste whether or not they had finished their plate, like an apple core or a banana peel.”

Students with empty plates are rewarded the opportunity to enter a drawing for prizes, including gift certificates to local restaurants that compost, such as Uncommon Ground, according to Rubin.

Although the Empty Plate Challenge isn’t at Damen Dining yet, the plan is to bring it to the dining hall next week, Rubin said. In bringing the challenge to Damen, the goal is to raise awareness both on composting and Damen’s lack of composting, she said. This was reported in a previous Phoenix article published on Oct. 2.

The Empty Plate Challenge will continue throughout the school year. Rubin said she hopes that the program will spread awareness about other composting initiatives around campus and encourage students to take part in programs like the Bucket Program.

“We’re trying to get people to realize how much plate waste people have, and how much food they’re wasting in the dining halls,” Rubin said.

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