Leanpath could change the way UConn students view food waste 


Food trays carry away used plates and dishes from the dining halls for disposal.  Photo by Matthew Pickett / The Daily Campus

Food trays carry away used plates and dishes from the dining halls for disposal. Photo by Matthew Pickett / The Daily Campus

Leanpath, a technological system that aims to minimize food waste, is currently being used at every dining hall at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus. 

The system works by weighing how much food is being thrown out and entering the reasons why. These reasons can range from overproduction to quality to the fact that they were simply leftovers on the line that can’t be reused. A snapshot is taken every time an entry is made and can be seen in the system at any time. 

New to South Dining Hall, though, is a system that tracks how much food a student, on average, wastes per plate. This system measures the weight of food waste collected into barrels at given intervals and aggregates the total value for the entire day. 

Michael White, Assistant Director for Residential Dining in Storrs, explained that the data reflects an interesting trend in student waste. 

“Students are wasting about two ounces of food, on average, per student. There’s going to be days where the numbers vary, and we have to be smart, we have to understand the data, we need to look at the menu to understand, for example, that we served chicken thighs and they had bones in them,” White said. “Bone weight is going to fluctuate plate waste on a given day, so we’re paying attention to all of those different things, but it’s giving us some really good data, some really good conversation points for not only managers but also for our lead chefs and our students.” 

The data will be presented daily to the students who visit South in an attempt to help them understand how much food is wasted per day. This system encourages students to think about the food that they’re taking at a meal, and the usage of Leanpath at other universities has shown that food waste tends to decrease as students begin to understand just how much food is being wasted every day. 

White feels that utilizing and understanding the Leanpath system is something important not only for the students, but also for the staff who can help minimize food waste by working with a conservation mindset. 

 “One of probably the most significant hurdles is encouraging all staff to use the Leanpath tracking system,” White said. “It is non-punitive, meaning you don’t get in trouble for putting entries in. You will not get in trouble if you weighed something, even if you were the one who made too much of it, you will not get in trouble for that. We do not want to encourage people to be secretly throwing stuff away.” 

 Additionally, according to White, each dining hall has been assigned a “food waste champion.” These champions all convene in meetings with White to discuss the things they’ve seen in their respective dining halls and particular goals they have to decrease certain types of food waste. They use the collected data and work with the chefs and management to reduce their food waste. 

 Food waste is a national issue, and studies have shown that anywhere from 30% to 50% of food in the United States goes to waste from year to year. According to White, UConn is looking to find uses for its waste while still working towards the reduction of it. 

 “Ultimately, we have a closed-loop system on our food waste, and that’s something that I think we’re pretty proud of … All of our food waste is separated into exclusively food waste, it’s all going to a company that’s called Quantum Bio down in Southington, CT where they have a large anaerobic digestion system,” White said. “They scrape the methane, they generate the power, and they’re actually powering multiple businesses in the town of Southington, and a lot of it has to do with UConn’s food waste. The fewer trips we can make down there, to be honest, the better, and that’s sort of the objective.” 

 If the measurement of student waste proves to have an impact, UConn could potentially see the system extended to other dining halls. 

 “If the data looks right, and we can fix this, then let’s do this in other locations,” White said. “I don’t think you’ll see it in January, but you could see it next fall that we’ve deployed one, two, maybe even three more tracking systems in the dish rooms.” 

Thomas Alvarez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at thomas.alvarez@uconn.edu.

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