By Aliyah Kovner
Campus News Reporter

The price of groceries is at an all-time high, and with the raised cost of commodities and the economic belly-flop, food waste is becoming painfully pressing issue.

In an effort to curb excessive food waste, UC Santa Cruz dining halls and cafés have begun removing the food trays in dining halls and cafés.

Food waste is an unfortunate side effect of the buffet style available at most university dining halls.

“Living off campus, I waste a lot less — I know what I need,” second-year Lucy Stutter said. “But if it’s a free buffet, you don’t think about it as much.”

Scott Berlin, director of dining and hospitality at UCSC, described the amount of food thrown away as more than a ton each week per dining hall.

Berlin’s estimation includes food from students’ plates as well as leftovers of the prepared food, due to health and safety regulations.

UCSC Dining does not have its own compost program and must send the material to an off-site facility at increased cost. It is working on developing its own compost system, but in the mean time composting is a too expensive option.

“In the ideal situation, we would have composting vessels on campus composting all of our waste, and then utilizing all of this fertilizer on campus in one form or another,” Berlin said.

The lack of compost vestibules is visible to anyone who has visited a campus eatery. Not only do potential meals go to the dump, but a portion of the university budget goes to the city to process UCSC’s organic refuse.

The move to trayless dining is one of the first steps UCSC has taken toward a waste-free system. It was first implemented at Porter College.

The other dining halls gave it a try on “trayless days” last year, and attempted to measure the difference in waste. Food waste was reduced by approximately 35 percent on those days, according to UCSC Dining.

“In addition to saving this waste, we no longer have to wash the trays,” Berlin said. “With serving around 10,000 meals per day, this equates to over 2 million trays. We continue to work on other sustainability initiatives to reduce our waste stream, utilities and embrace the local economy.” 

The halls are also implementing more made-to-order dishes, so that prepared foods, like vats of macaroni and cheese, are not left over and then thrown out.

One option to ease the problem is to eat at a campus restaurant or café, instead of a dining hall.

Stevenson Café manager John Hadley, on a quick break from overseeing the bustling kitchen and packed counter, estimated that the eatery throws away about 0.5 percent of food prepared.

Although there is no compost bin outside the café, Hadley said he would be “happy to participate” if there were someone to manage the bins on a regular basis.

“People keep coming back [to try to implement one],” Hadley said. “It never gets off the ground.”