Sizing Up Food Waste and UCLA’s Recovery Efforts

No matter how much we eat or save for leftovers, many meals inevitably end up in the garbage disposal or trashed and in the landfill. With the season for gathering together— and cooking and consuming — upon us, it’s a perfect time to chew over the impact of food waste, what we Bruins can do to minimize it, and action on campus to create a more sustainable food system.

In 2021, on Thanksgiving alone, about 305 million pounds of food valued at $400 million went to waste, according to nonprofit organization ReFED.

A 2021 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the environmental impacts of food waste estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s close to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. This estimate does not include the significant methane emissions from food waste rotting in landfills. EPA data show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively.

Instead of food going uneaten, wasted dollars, and a big burden to the environment, here’s how to help:

  • Introduce mindfulness into your grocery shopping routine: Be intentional about your purchases and plan ahead for meals. Even better? Shop locally at a Farmers’ Markets, like the one hosted in Westwood Village every Thursday, or look into a ordering a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box.
  • Get creative in the kitchen: Find a use for all the food you bring home – and eat those leftovers! The freezer is your friend and can be a kitchen’s low-waste pal.
  • Compost those remaining scraps.
  • Donate when possible: If you have extra non-perishables, bring them to the UCLA Community Programs Office Food Closet, or a local food bank.

Here at UCLA, sustainable food considers the full life cycle of what we eat, including how it is grown, harvested, packaged, transported, prepared, and consumed, as well as how its nutrients are returned to productive use when we are done eating — with the campus striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food.

An enterprise contributing positively to the goal of a sustainable food system on campus is Bruin Dine. The student-run organization works to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity by recovering food from UCLA’s dining halls. Food that would have otherwise been thrown away is redistributing to students and other Bruins in need. Food recovery events occur regularly, with diners also encouraged to bring their own containers and utensils.

Final food for thought: by reducing and preventing food waste in our homes and on campus, we can increase food security, promote resource and energy conservation, and help fight climate change.