Strategies for Managing, Reducing, and Disposing of Food Waste

As the population of the United States continues to grow and consumption levels rise, food waste has increasingly become a pressing environmental, economic, and social issue (Thyberg and Tonjes 2016, 2). This has led a number of institutions and communities to examine their own consumption habits, prompting various questions regarding how to most efficiently reduce and dispose of waste. Young et al. (2017) explain that food waste was largely ignored until the mid-2000s, which eventually changed due to an “increasing awareness of food waste levels and associated impacts” (2). Therefore, we find it pertinent to engage with scholarship so that we can better understand how to address food waste management at Davidson College. After conducting a brief analysis of the available literature surrounding this topic, we have identified various strategies that can be implemented to address food waste: prevention and diversion, effective communication, comprehensive education, and support from external organizations. In this paper, we will first examine the four strategies and their relevant studies, next identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and finally address the limitations and gaps of the research.

The first strategy we identified is an emphasis on food waste prevention and diversion. The former refers to minimizing the amount of food waste produced while the latter refers to re-using surplus food for consumption, animal feed, or compost. Wright et al. (2014) proposed a framework that places prevention, followed by diversion, as the most important steps in reducing food waste. Smyth et al. (2010) reach a similar conclusion in their examination of food waste at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). The authors conclude that diversion, “through waste reduction, recycling and composting activities,” could reduce about 71 percent of the waste on the Prince George campus of UNBC (1012). Thiagarajah et al. (2012) offer several preventative strategies to reduce food waste on college campuses such as trayless dining halls, the use of small plates, as well as make-to-order dining options. Furthermore, Merrow et al. (2012) identify post-consumer waste diversion as Western Michigan University’s largest sustainability issue, and therefore propose several composting and recycling initiatives (28).

The second strategy we identified in the literature is effective communication. Young et al. (2017) have determined that “communication channels combined and repeated over time” can have a significant effect on reducing individuals’ reported food waste (12).  The authors used six communication channels (in-store magazine, e-newsletter, Facebook site, product stickers and in-store demonstrations), all of which included standard food waste reduction messages, to test this hypothesis. This conclusion is shared by Whitehair et al. (2013) who found that simple messages led to a 15 percent reduction in food waste at a university dining hall.

Another important strategy to reduce food waste is comprehensive education. Several scholars in the field argue that knowledge surrounding the food waste system, as well as food waste management, is critical in achieving effective sustainability initiatives. Thyberg et al. (2016) advocate for education campaigns, which include facts or sustainable behaviors related to food waste management as a tool to reduce food waste (18). The importance of education also extends to an institutional level. In the previously noted study of UNBC, Smyth et al. (2010) conclude that “understanding the characteristics of an institution’s solid waste stream” is the most important step in creating an effective waste management system (1014). However, in their study of food waste on college campuses in Alabama and Hawaii, Emanuel et al. (2010) determined that students do not appear to suffer from a “knowledge gap” but rather from a “commitment gap” (89).

The final strategy we identified is support from external organizations. In the state of Iowa, many k-12 schools are relying on organizations such as the School Nutrition Association (SNA), Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC), and Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) to offer critical advice and expertise on food waste (Johnston 2017). Furthermore, Oregon State University (2018) recently received a $27,000 grant from the government to implement a scale and camera to examine campus food waste. These approaches see the involvement of expert programs as the most efficient way to reduce waste.

As a whole, the four approaches share multiple areas of overlap, and yet they also conflict with one another. The implementation of food waste education is unattainable without communication.  Therefore, these two approaches are similar in that they both emphasize the power of words in producing change.  Prevention and diversion is comparable to the use of external organizations in that they both put emphasis on technical strategies and expertise.  They highlight efficient and active work, rather than a gradual understanding of the topic.  As a result, there is controversy over the best method to select.  Some literature suggests it is best to allow others to come and aid you in reducing waste through specific programs and initiatives, whereas other literature prefers education and communication within one organization.

Because not all of the literature discussed strategies for college campuses in particular, we will be required to make inferences as to the effectiveness of their proposed strategies. We are limited in that no schools in North Carolina and no schools of similar size to Davidson College were studied in our selected literature, but perhaps this is a limitation that can be resolved through further research. Ultimately, the literature we examined reveals that there is a large variety of approaches than can be taken to deal with food waste.  Often the best approach is dependent upon the specific organization’s resources, knowledge, and exact desires.  Through greater analysis of each piece of literature and each study, we will reach a conclusion as to the best approach for Davidson College to reduce its food waste.


Emanuel, Richard, and J. N. Adams. 2011. “College Students’ Perceptions of Campus Sustainability.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 12(1): 79–92.

Johnston, Marsha W. 2017. “Food Waste Reduction Strategies In K-12 Schools: The Iowa Waste Reduction Center’s K-12 Audits and Training, and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation’s SCrAP Program, Provide Critical Tools to Reduce Food Waste.” BioCycle 58(10): 24–26.

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

“OSU Receives Grant to Reduce Food Waste in Campus Dining Halls.” 2018. Waste360: 2–2.

Smyth, Daniel P., Arthur L. Fredeen, and Annie L. Booth. “Reducing Solid Waste in Higher Education: The First Step towards ‘Greening’ a University Campus – ScienceDirect.” (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: 110–23.

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.

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: 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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