Reducing Food Waste at Davidson College


TO: Ms. Dee Phillips

FROM: Sean Caveney and Julia Sirvinskas

RE: Reducing Food Waste at Davidson College

DATE: April 22, 2018


As the population of the United States continues to grow and consumption levels rise, food waste has become an increasingly pressing environmental, economic, and social issue.[1] The U.S. wastes an alarming 31 percent of its overall food supply every year.[2] We have frequently witnessed evidence of this phenomenon while in Davidson’s dining hall, where we see trays full of half-eaten food frequently being sent back for disposal. This leads to decreased food security, loss of natural resources, and also contributes to global warming through increased methane emissions.[3] For this reason, in 2015, the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a national goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent.[4] As an academic institution with national influence, we believe it is important that Davidson College continues to rigorously evaluate its approach to dealing with food waste on campus.

By analyzing three proposed policy options using the PEST (political, economic, social, technological) framework, along with environmental and administrative considerations, we have determined that the most plausible solution to reducing waste from the Davidson College dining hall is donating excess food. This memo will present the three policy options, explain the criteria and system used to rate them, examine the strengths and weaknesses of each policy, and finally offer a recommendation as to which policy will be most effective – the donation of excess food. An appendix at the end of the memo clearly illustrates the evaluation of the policy options.


  1. Trayless Dining Hall:  This policy advocates for removing trays from Davidson’s primary dining hall, Vail Commons. A 2010 study found that when a university dining hall transitioned from a tray to trayless foodservice operation, there was a significant decrease in solid food waste per person.[5] Therefore, this policy is an example of using prevention to reduce food waste, an approach that seeks to minimize the amount of food waste produced in the first place.[6]
  2. Comprehensive Food Waste Education: This approach aims to raise awareness surrounding the topic of food waste through the use of various educational strategies. Several scholars have found that education campaigns can be effective in reducing food waste. In one study, repeated communication channels successfully reduced food waste.[7] In another instance, food waste reduction messages led to a 15% reduction in food waste at a university dining hall.[8]
  3. Donating Excess Food: This policy reduces food waste by donating excess food to local soup kitchens. Studies have shown that diversion, or the idea of reusing surplus food, can be highly effective in reducing food waste.[9] Several of Davidson’s social organizations (including both fraternities and eating houses) currently donate their excess food to the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.


Prior to determining which of the previously listed policy options is best, we will complete a decision analysis and ultimately assign a score to each option. We will use six criteria to determine the overall feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed solutions.  These six criteria are: (1) political feasibility; (2) environmental benefits; (3) social benefits; (4) administrative feasibility; (5) economic costs / benefits; and (6) technological feasibility. We will now clarify a few of these criteria to ensure understanding of their valuation. Political feasibility refers to how controversial implementing the given option would be, a higher score meaning it would be less rather than more controversial. Social benefits refer to how warmly the plan is likely to be received by the relevant community (Davidson college students, staff, and faculty). Administrative feasibility concerns how effectively the plan can be implemented and enforced. Lastly, to clarify technological feasibility, this criterion considers whether new technology is necessary for the implementation of the plan and how costly this implementation would be. Each policy option will be given a score one through five based on its performance of each criterion. A five represents the best possible score, and a one represents the worst, meaning a score of three represents a fairly neutral rating. Therefore, the policy option with the highest weighted average will be presented as the best policy option for the issue at hand, reducing food waste at the Davidson College dining hall. See Figure 1 in the appendix for the criteria ratings and final weighted averages.


  • Eliminating trays from Vail Commons would reduce the amount of water used in the cleaning process and has also been shown to reduce the amount of food wasted by consumers.[10]
  • The absence of trays has the potential to make tables dirtier in the dining hall, thus requiring more cleaning supplies and time to be spent on custodial matters.[11]
  • This option requires the implementation of new technology because the currently installed system requires the use of trays.[12] It would be expensive to eliminate this old system and install a new one, and it would also take time for Vail Commons staff to get accustomed to. As a result, the administration may not support the work required to achieve a trayless dining hall.
  • This option is unlikely to be received well by students, who would have to adapt their dining habits.


  • Implementation is fairly simple: creating and posting flyers requires little effort and time, and there are many frequented spaces on campus where this information would be viewed. While some studies have shown that education campaigns can reduce reported food waste, it is not certain that viewers will internalize these messages and change their behavior.[13]
  • At its greatest extent, this approach could involve the creation of a new, one-time Davidson 101 class regarding food waste. Because the class would be required, it is more likely that students would pay attention, but also more likely they would be opposed to spending their time in another mandatory class.
  • With the exclusion of a potential Davidson 101 class, this approach is likely to receive little backlash, as administrators and students are likely to view positively attempts to reduce food waste.
  • Creating education campaigns is relatively cheap and does not require the implementation of new technology.
  • The creation of a mechanism to oversee whether or not food waste is actually being reduced would be necessary.  This would take time and increase the responsibilities of the dining hall staff.


  • This approach is likely to be widely accepted among Davidson staff, faculty, and students as it promotes a positive social action. Furthermore, by implementing this system, awareness of the problem it addresses is likely to increase.[14]
  • Donating excess food to the Mooresville Soup Kitchen would support the services that the Kitchen provides to the community to ensure food security. These services include: meal service, food markets, a food pantry, and kitchen connections.[15]
  • Some donation systems are already in place with fraternities and eating houses on campus, and therefore relationships with partners to whom Vail Commons could donate are already established.
  • This policy requires time and energy from the people who would be delivering the donations. It is unclear whether students or Vail Commons staff would deliver the donations.
  • Transporting excess food requires the use of cars and this could have negative environmental impacts.
  • No new technology is required.


While each policy has its own strengths and weaknesses, our decision analysis (see Figure 1) suggests that donating excess food waste will be the most effective policy in reducing food waste at Davidson College. While many scholars suggest that food waste prevention should be prioritized over food waste diversion, we believe this overly simplifies the considerable social barriers that must be overcome to change the college’s dining operations as well as the students’ consumption behaviors.[16] Donating excess food is thus a simple solution to this complex issue. By mirroring the food waste donation program currently run by the Patterson Court organizations, Vail Commons would face few political or administrative challenges due to the student-driven nature of the initiative. Furthermore, the policy would not be financially taxing as the only foreseeable costs would be containers to store excess food and gas money to reimburse people transporting food. From an environmental standpoint, this policy would help to divert more food waste in conjunction with the college’s composting system, which often cannot deal with the high volume of incoming food.[17] While donating the food will inevitably lead to increased car emissions, we believe the benefits of using diversion outweigh this consequence. Finally, the policy has tremendous social capital as it would increase food security in the greater Davidson community. Further research may be useful in identifying the exact amount of Davidson’s post-consumer waste, and, relationally, how much of this food is actually consumable by the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.

In terms of implementing this program, we suggest communicating with the organizations of Patterson Court who already have systems in place for the donation of excess food. Based on these conversations, you can determine if you would like excess food from Vail Commons to be donated to the Mooresville Soup Kitchen or to a new location. If a new location is preferred, we recommend researching locations in the area to which donation, especially in large quantities, is possible. Finally, we recommend establishing a group of volunteers who will transport the donations. This may come in the form of a club, student volunteers, or perhaps Vail Commons employees. By following these steps, we believe the implementation of the plan to donate excess food is highly feasible.


Figure 1. Decision analysis table for the proposed policy options. Ratings for each criterion range from one to five. A score of 1 means the cons greatly outweigh the pros; 2 means the cons slightly outweigh the pros; 3 means pros and cons are neutral; 4 means the pros slightly outweigh the cons; and 5 indicates that the pros greatly outweigh the cons. We weighted administrative feasibility highest because the need for effective implementation and enforcement is most important to the policy’s success. Environmental and economic concerns are weighted higher as well because our main concern is achieving ecological sustainability, but we want to achieve it in an economically efficient way. The final three criteria we found to be of equal but minimal importance. Based on the final weighted score assigned to each policy option, we found that Option 3, donating excess food, is the best option.  The social support it would receive and the relatively simple implementation process, administratively and technologically, present this option as the most effective, efficient, and feasible.


Matrix of Weighted Averages of Policy Options’ Performance of Various Criteria

Political Feasibility Environmental Benefits Social Benefits Administrative Feasibility Economic Costs / Benefits Technological Feasibility Weighted Score
Criteria Weight 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.1
Option 1: Trayless Dining  














Option 2: Comprehensive Education  














Option 3: Donating Excess Food  















[1] Black, “College Students on a Mission to Donate Leftover Food – The Washington Post.”

[2] US EPA, “America’s Food Waste Problem.”

[3] Ibid.

 [4] Ibid.

  [5] Thiagarajah and Getty, “Impact on Plate Waste of Switching from a Tray to a Trayless Delivery System in a University Dining Hall and Employee Response to the Switch.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Young et al., “Sustainable Retailing – Influencing Consumer Behaviour on Food Waste.”

[8] Whitehair, Shanklin, and Brannon, “Written Messages Improve Edible Food Waste Behaviors in a University Dining Facility.”

[9] Smyth, Fredeen, and Booth, “Reducing Solid Waste in Higher Education: The First Step towards ‘Greening’ a University Campus – ScienceDirect.”

[10] Thiagarajah and Getty, “Impact on Plate Waste of Switching from a Tray to a Trayless Delivery System in a University Dining Hall and Employee Response to the Switch.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sharp, “The Trayvolution.”

[13] Wright et al., “The Food Waste Hierarchy as a Framework for the Management of Food Surplus and Food Waste.”

[14] Black, “College Students on a Mission to Donate Leftover Food – The Washington Post.”

[15] “Who We Are.”

[16] Wright et al., “The Food Waste Hierarchy as a Framework for the Management of Food Surplus and Food Waste.”

[17] Merrow, Penzien, and Dubats, “Exploring Food Waste Reduction in Campus Dining Halls.”



Black, Jane. 2013. “College Students on a Mission to Donate Leftover Food – The Washington Post.” January 29, 2013.

Merrow, Kylie, Philip Penzien, and Trevor Dubats. 2012. “Exploring Food Waste Reduction in Campus Dining Halls.” Western Michigan University.

Sharp, Adde. n.d. “The Trayvolution: Reducing Food Waste at Davidson – The Davidsonian.” Accessed March 26, 2018.

Smyth, Daniel P., Arthur L. Fredeen, and Annie L. Booth. n.d. “Reducing Solid Waste in Higher Education: The First Step towards ‘Greening’ a University Campus – ScienceDirect.” Accessed February 9, 2018.

Thiagarajah, Krisha, and Victoria M. Getty. 2013. “Impact on Plate Waste of Switching from a Tray to a Trayless Delivery System in a University Dining Hall and Employee Response to the Switch.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113 (1): 141–45.

Thyberg, Krista L., and David J. Tonjes. 2016. “Drivers of Food Waste and Their Implications for Sustainable Policy Development.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 106 (January): 110–23.

US EPA, ORD. 2016. “America’s Food Waste Problem.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA. April 20, 2016.

Whitehair, Kelly J., Carol W. Shanklin, and Laura A. Brannon. 2013. “Written Messages Improve Edible Food Waste Behaviors in a University Dining Facility.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113 (1): 63–69.

“Who We Are.” n.d. Mooresville Soup Kitchen. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Wright, Nigel, Rodrigo Lozano, Julia K. Steinberger, and Zaini bin Ujang. 2014. “The Food Waste Hierarchy as a Framework for the Management of Food Surplus and Food Waste.” Journal of Cleaner Production 76 (August): 106–15.

Young, C. William, Sally V. Russell, Cheryl A. Robinson, and Phani Kumar Chintakayala. 2018. “Sustainable Retailing – Influencing Consumer Behaviour on Food Waste.” Business Strategy & the Environment (John Wiley & Sons, Inc) 27 (1): 1–15.


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