I am a freshman in the School of Engineering and an international student. This last detail is important because from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31, I had to quarantine in my room, eating only the boxed meals provided by Cornell Dining. During, and well after my time in mandated quarantine, widespread complaints about two issues circulated: The overuse of single-use plastics and inadequate waste disposal.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has increased in the United States. This is particularly true for households with young children. According to Brookings Institute, which has been named “Top Think Tank in the World” every year since 2008, by the end of April, more than 20 percent of households in the United States and 40 percent of households with mothers with children 12 and under were food insecure. These mothers said, “The food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have enough money to get more.” The incidence of hardship among children as measured by responses to this question has increased 460 percent. At the same time, farmers are destroying their products.
Armed with buckets and posters, Cornell’s 35 student composting managers are combating food waste in dorms in an effort to reduce the amount of organic material sent to the Ithaca landfill. About two-thirds of student residence halls — all but the townhouses and some West Campus houses — are equipped with composting bins, including large dumpsters and buckets, according to Naomi Haber ’20, Sustainability Coordinator at the Campus Sustainability Office. Every year, 4,000 tons of organic waste, including waste from residence halls and dining halls, is converted to compost through Cornell’s composting facilities, the largest composting operation in Tompkins County. The student compost managing team, which was established in September last semester, are meant to lead sustainable development in the student community, according to Haber. They keep track of the compost buckets and are responsible for depositing food scraps into one of the large bins on either North or West Campus once a week.
It’s time to decide whether that mountain of Mongo-wokked goodness you overzealously loaded onto your tray is still worth eating. You might reason that anything remaining on your top-heavy tray is a sunk cost and place it on the conveyor belt, sending your food, tray and worries into the kitchen.
For some students, however, the worry and guilt associated with wasted food does not disappear so easily
“It’s a shame to see people waste so much food. I’m straight up livid. The University bears a cost and the environment bears the cost of having to wash extra plates and cutlery,” Josh Neifeld ’11 said.
Although excessive waste is undesirable, it is nonetheless unavoidable, according to Doug Lockwood, office manager for Cornell Dining.