Students are leading the battle against food waste in cities. From local start-ups to wholesale retailers, young entrepreneurs seek new ways of rerouting food waste into innovative ideas. For this week’s blog, I caught up with Frank Fritz, who cracked down on food waste on college campuses. Fritz is a junior at GW researching sustainability initiatives in the Washington, D.C., metro area. A passionate advocate for social and environmental justice, Fritz is the president of Fossil Free GW and co-founder of The Washington ComPost, a student-based social enterprise that strives to mitigate food waste and climate change issues.
Where did the Washington ComPost begin?
For three years I interned with the Consortium of Universities, an interest group of D.C. area schools including GW, Georgetown, UDC, Howard and American. I was doing sustainability research for them and in my second year attended a meeting held by Zero Waste Coordinators—these are people who manage waste on campus. They had an event where we actually visited a composting facility out in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where GW sends its waste from the Pelham Commons on the Mount Vernon Campus. The universities had a lot of concerns that students didn’t know how to compost correctly— they would mix the garbage together, and find things like silverware. They thought that students didn’t really have an interest in sustainability, and I thought that was not true. If you started on a small scale, I think you could definitely show that university students were not only interested in composting but would actually gain a lot from sustainable initiatives, not only the waste reduction aspect of it. Reusing organic matter has great impacts for the climate and for our food chains as well. It got me thinking, and I realized that this is a great opportunity to teach about the food chain, its waste, and how we could tighten it to get much more out of it than we thought we could. I worked with another student to develop a pilot composting program for the Hensley Residence Hall on the GW Mount Vernon Campus.
How did the first round go?
The first few weeks were a little bumpy because we had to make sure that quality was well controlled. We did weekly audits, so had to put on rubber gloves and dig through the compost to ensure that there was no extraneous waste and anything that wasn’t compostable. As we went on through the semester, we saw it grow from a good amount of waste to a full 30-gallon toter. Students really took the message to heart and learned a lot about composting.
Do you plan to move your initiative from the Mount Vernon Campus to Foggy Bottom?
With the Sodexo contract terminating and the new dining hall coming in, there’s a real opportunity for composting to be involved with the new vendor. A lot of universities already do it, so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that there would be an opening to try and educate students on how to compost. Our best way to contribute is showing that there is student interest, and that education really does have tangible impacts.
To some, this idea of food waste is still very new, and people may not realize the impact that it has on our environment and economy. How did you engage students?
(In a study) 72% of GW students affirmed that climate change is a real issue to them and that they want their university to be more active. We can always do more when it comes to sustainability and climate change. When you tell people that emissions from decaying food releases methane that can be 13-30 times more potent than greenhouse gas emissions, it gets their attention. One of the best features of the Washington ComPost is that it gets you to separate your waste streams. When you pull food out of your garbage, it doesn’t all just go to the same place, and you have to consciously make an effort to see how much food you actually paid for that will go uneaten. Up to a quarter to one third of all food that American families purchase will go to waste. Food grows on trees, obviously, but it doesn’t always end up in your stomach. And a lot of times, it ends up in our atmosphere, when it could have helped serve underserved people in our area. There’s a huge hunger problem in our city, as well as in the United States in general, and getting people to look at just one part of our food system will cause them to think more critically.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
This is part two of a six-part series. Waste Not Wednesday is a community engagement project created by Ayse Muratoglu, a 2015-2016 Emerging Leader for Food Security for the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Program. The yearlong program takes 10 college sophomores who will work with Land O’Lakes experts to explore issues of food security, and find ways to feed the world. To learn more about the Global Food Challenge, join the conversation at http://foodchallenge.landolakesinc.com/