It recently came to light that the University of Connecticut Union Street Market, located in the Student Union, significantly contributes to food waste. Rather than combatting this by allowing employees to take food home, employees are told to throw out excess food. This was emphasized in an email sent out by a supervisor at the Union Street Market, telling employees that taking food home “counts as stealing” and employees “can be fired for it.”
Although UConn does have certain donation standards in place, such as for sandwiches and salads, there is no donation process for meat. The food thrown out at the end of each day reportedly takes up between two to three heavy garbage bags.
Food waste contributes to several larger problems, especially in terms of the environment. When food is wasted, a very small percentage of it is actually used as compost; the majority of it breaks down to form methane gas, which contributes significantly more to trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide emissions. In the U.S., food waste generates the equivalent of approximately 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.
Aside from greenhouse gas emissions, food waste also consumes an incredible amount of water. In the U.S., food waste is responsible for more than 25% of freshwater consumption per year. Worldwide, the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted yearly is equivalent to about 45 trillion gallons of water wasted as well.
Food waste has dire environmental impacts. UConn clearly contributes to a significant amount of food waste, which is something that must change. Especially given the goals of the university to become more sustainable, and the way that the university prides itself on being a “cool school,” this is certainly something that should be prioritized and addressed. UConn cannot in good conscience pride itself on being sustainable and environmentally friendly when, in reality, it contributes so significantly to food waste, and thus the severe negative effects associated with it.
Aside from the significant environmental impacts, this also brings up concerns about food insecurity, which is prevalent in and around UConn. In 2019, a survey conducted by two former undergraduate students found that out of the 1,400 respondents, 25% reported facing worries in the past year that they would not have enough food due to a lack of money or other resources. Additionally, 31% of respondents reported they had faced a time when they were hungry but could not eat because they did not have enough money.
Although student-led initiatives, such as UConn Access to Food Effort and Husky Market, have worked to combat food insecurity in and around campus, given all the food waste the Union Street Market is contributing to, it is clear that the university has not done enough to combat this problem. Food should not be a luxury; it is a human right and should be treated as such.
Moving forward, the UConn Union Street Market and other facilities that contribute to food waste must re-evaluate what they do with excess food. Food waste should not accumulate to this extent, especially given the current climate crisis and how prevalent food insecurity is, not only in and around UConn, but worldwide. There must be more transparency around the issue, and students, staff and faculty should communicate in order to devise adequate solutions to this problem.