Fooducation: Food Waste Project Kick Off

Ideas for tackling food waste at Harvard.

By Yong Li Dich10-31-2016

Hi, I’m Yong, part of Harvard’s class of 2019, and a potential computer science concentrator with a global health secondary.

Food once eaten is something that is out of site and out of mind. We’re not very conscious or, more accurately, most of us just don’t care about the consequences of the amount of trash we produce. It’s something very small, but the impact in adjusting trash practices is potentially huge.

I see plates full of food everyday being thrown away if not eaten, and I’ve been guilty of this before.

How can we change the conversation? What approaches can we make? How can we reinforce and support programs/policies already in place to decrease food waste? How else can food waste be beneficial instead of detrimental to society? These questions and more are what the HODP food waste team seeks to explore.

Harvard students waste a lot of food, which harms our budget and the environment. There are many questions around this topic: How much food do students waste? How does HUDS decide how much food to make? Do interventions like “no-tray” days actually reduce food waste? Through partnerships with HUDS and environmental groups like REPs, we’ll gather data about food waste over time across dining halls, visualize this for the benefit of students and HUDS, and provide recommendations for how to reduce food waste and ensure that any remaining waste is used well.

Meet the team

Our project presents a variety of challenging problems in data science (how can we measure food waste?) and policy (what action can we take based off of that?) We’ve lined up a great team to tackle it:

  • Jackie Chea — Pfoho, Class of 2019, Policy and data science
  • Alexis Ross — Canaday, Class of 2020, Policy and data science
  • Michelle Vaccaro — Class of 2019, Policy and data science

Background readings

Potential solutions

Existing projects

Western Michigan University students explored policies to reduce food waste in their dining halls and compiled case studies from other universities. This would be an interesting place for us to start!

First steps

We’ll start by talking to the Harvard Sustainability office, Harvard Dining Services, and more to gather information about what data’s already out there and what data, if any, we need to collect. From there, we’ll be able to figure out what data we can start analyzing and visualizing.

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