Psychology research group aims to track and reduce food waste

Researchers plot how much food students waste at UW-Eau Claire’s cafeteria


Photo by Colette St John

Students wait in the buffet line for breakfast at the Hilltop dining facility.

Story by Colette St John, Staff Writer

Food places offering an unlimited amount of food for a baseline price leads to one thing: waste.

And UW-Eau Claire has that bottomless option in The Hilltop dining location on upper campus. By providing a buffet-style food selection for students and community members, the idea of food conservation and reduction of waste was raised.

Assistant professor Dr. Carla Lagorio of the psychology department became interested in determining how much food is wasted and what we can do to reduce it.

So Lagorio and selected student-researchers began studying to gain a better grasp of this environmental concern.

After weighing food each day around 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. it became clear how serious the waste problem was. So the group kept researching, Lagorio said.

“We have implemented several interventions in an effort to reduce the food waste generated on upper campus and are continually measuring the effectiveness of the interventions through the daily data collection,” Lagorio said.

Researchers targeted students in spring 2014 by creating informational posters in napkin dispensers, then larger posters and signs warning people as they enter the dining facility to be aware of the food they put on their plate.

By displaying weekly food waste numbers, researchers try to encourage students to waste less than the week prior.

“We’re generally trying to create a culture on campus where food waste is an avoidable issue that we can all rally behind and do something about,” she said. “It’s possible that it might motivate students by showing them how their efforts in helping this issue really makes a noticeable difference.”

Eau Claire has made some strides to reduce lunchroom waste, according to Blugold Dining’s social responsibility page. The cafeteria recently began using locally grown food, recycling, composting and other measures.

According to Blugold Dining, 20 percent of the $4.3 million in food each year is spent on food produced and distributed within 150 miles of Eau Claire.

Maggie Reardon, one of three food waste researchers and a senior psychology major, has helped to conduct research to bring attention to the issue. Reardon was asked to present her research at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference in Chicago recently.

“Just by bringing awareness to the thousands of pounds we are wasting every week we have already decreased waste to almost 3,000 pounds, beginning with over 4,000,” Reardon said.

Reardon said it’s important to realize how much food waste people create.

“We can minimize food waste on this campus by all taking responsibility and only taking what we need,” she said. “Our take away message is to be hypersensitive to yourself and actions and how they impact the greater world.”

Linsi Osland, freshman elementary education major, said the push to reduce waste is a step in the right direction, but there’s more to be done to solve the problem.

“I typically eat what I take so I do not feel like I am personally being wasteful,” Osland said. “But I don’t feel like the things being done in the cafeteria will be able to significantly alter others views.”