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Dining hall employees at Oregon State University will soon start weighing every pound of wasted food in an effort to prevent future waste.

The university was recently awarded a $27,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Materials Management program to reduce food waste, said Chris Anderson with University Housing & Dining Services. The money will be used to institute a Portland-based computer system called LeanPath in the dining halls.

“We want to get a much better sense of where is food waste being generated and where can wasted food be prevented,” Anderson said.

The system comes with a scale and a camera, he said. At the end of the day, employees will place all post-production food they plan to discard on the scale. They’ll select their food station and then choose a category for the food, such as grains, fruit or meat. The program will record the weight of the food and take a picture.

Employees will then discard the food as usual, whether to the compost, Linn Benton Food Share or to the landfill, Anderson said.

All the food-waste data will be stored in a web platform where managers can review the data and consider where they might alter or reduce purchases, he said. The university might order less food, restructure portion sizes or order different meals depending on what the data reflects.

Anderson said the LeanPath program could even be used in a post-consumer application. Two of the university’s three dining halls have dish carousels where students discard their plates and employees sort the leftovers for composting. Employees could weigh the leftover food for data consideration, but it may be more difficult to categorize, he said.

The university plans to begin using LeanPath by July. The grant will allow the dining halls access to the program for a year, and then the university could consider extending the contract.

“If we see even a very small reduction in our food purchases it would justify continuing that relationship as far as the annual contract and costs go,” Anderson said.

He said the school’s dining halls produce between 200,000 and 250,000 pounds of wasted food annually. According to LeanPath, the University of Massachusetts Amherst instituted the program and reduced its food waste by nearly 25 percent in four months.

Anderson said he doesn’t expect that drastic of a reduction in OSU’s food waste because of programs the school has already established to reduce waste. The school moved to an a la carte pricing structure, rather than an all-you-can-eat method, which encourages students to take only what they intend to consume, he said. Chefs are also encouraged to cook items on demand.

Anderson said he’s hoping for a 10 percent reduction in food waste.

“If we can reduce it by even 1 percent it’s actually a financial win for our program,” he said.

Beyond saving money on food purchases, the university could also cut costs by reducing pickups of organic waste by Republic Services, Anderson said.

He said the university has a duty to take responsibility for its food waste.

“Corvallis is a very sustainably minded community,” Anderson said. “So I think that it’s an important value to our community.”

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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Public Safety Reporter

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