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Food Waste

Why care about food waste?

University of Iowa's 20/20 goals include decreasing the production of waste to achieve 60% waste diversion by 2020. Reducing food waste is essential to reach that goal. According to 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council report, Americans trash 40 percent of our food supply every year, valued at about $165 billion. Just a 15 percent reduction of losses in the US food supply would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually. Reducing the food mass in our landfills would have significant economic, social, and environmental befits.



2014 Waste Audit Results

Results from University of Iowa's 2014 Waste Audit show that 29% of the University of Iowa's waste could be prevented by composting.

The environmental benefits of reducing food waste include reducing the amount of methane in landfills, reducing resource use associated with food production, improving soil health and structure, increasing drought resistance, reducing the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides, as well as improving sanitation, public safety, and health. Food waste can also be turned into renewable energy and a soil amendment through anaerobic digestion.

EPA food recovery hierarchyThe economic benefits of reducing food waste include reducing disposal costs, over-purchasing, and labor costs as well as receiving tax benefits from donating food. The first step in the food recovery hierarchy, source reduction by reducing the volume of surplus food generated, also saves unnecessary money and resources from being used.

The social benefits of reducing food waste is the opportunity to feed more people instead of feeding landfills.An estimated 50 million Americans do not have access to enough food. Organizations can donate safe and healthy food to a food bank or food rescue organization and both reduce food sent to landfills and feed those in need.


UI Dining Composting

In 2007, the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Landfill Recycling Center began a pre-consumer food waste composting pilot project that has since grown into a University-funded program composting over 80 tons of food waste. The original study and pilot were initiated by a student research project for Prof. Jerry Schnoor's class, Engineering for a Sustainable World.

Each semester, about 12 tons of food waste from Hillcrest and Burge dining halls is composted with other organic waste at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. When the compost is ready, some is returned to campus as a soil amendment for the Student Garden and the rest is sold to the public as one component of Iowa City Community Compost.

University Dining currently composts over 200 pounds of food every year.

University Dining locations that practice pre-consumer composting include the IMU River Room, Burge, Hillcrest, and 7 UIHC locations.

University Dining locations that practice post-consumer composting include Hillcrest and UIHC. Burge will be receive a food pulper in 2015 and begin to practice post-consumer composting. This improvement will double the amount of post-consumer food waste that is composted.

For information on composting in general education buildings, learn about our organics collection pilot project here

Reducing Food Waste At Home

Use some or all of these tips and resources to help your household reduce food waste and save money!

1. Smart Shopping: Buy What You Need
  • Shop your fridge and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have.
  • Include quantities on your shopping list to avoid overbuying. For fresh items, note how many meals you’ll make with each. For example: salad greens - enough for two lunches.
  • Buy fresh ingredients in smaller quantities more often so you waste less while enjoying fresher ingredients.
  • Choose loose fruit and vegetables over pre-packaged produce to better control the quantity you need and to ensure fresher ingredients.
2. Smart Storage: Keep Fruits and Vegetables Fresh 
  • Learn how to store fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness so they’ll taste better and last longer. Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide
  • Separate very ripe fruit from fruit that isn’t as ripe. Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other produce spoil faster.
  • Have produce that’s past its prime? It may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, sauces, pies or smoothies.
  • Use your freezer – if you can’t eat a food in time, you can often freeze it for later.
3. Smart Prep: Prep Now, Eat Later
  • Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. It will be easier to whip up meals later in the week, saving time, effort and money.
  • Cut your time in the kitchen by preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.
4. Smart Saving: Eat What You Buy
  • Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of a shelf or designated “eat now” area. Print out an "Eat Me First" label to stick on a box or shelf!
  • Make a list each week of what needs to be used up and plan meals around it.
  • Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by” and expiration dates.
  • Share food you won’t get around to eating with friends or neighbors before heading out of town.
  • When you do have to deal with food waste, make sure to compost it!

More Resources


Facilities Management Composting

Iowa City Government


News & Events Climate Narrative Blog

Sustainability at Iowa

1650 University Capitol Centre
200 South Clinton St.
Iowa City, IA 52242
(319) 335-5516