Organic Waste Recycling on Campus

Organic Waste Recycling on Campus

Harvest Table, the University’s new food service provider, has proved to be committed to on-campus composting, but is facing the challenge of contamination (non-compostable items thrown into compost bins). Even at an all time low for food waste in the Irvine Commons, there is room for growth.




Since Harvest Table became the University’s new food provider last fall, they have made food waste reduction a priority. Harvest Table uses the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy as an action guide. Following this hierarchy, the most effective way to reduce food waste is to first prevent food from being wasted, and later divert the food waste that is created away from landfills. Zach Hamada, Harvest Table’s Guest Experience Manager, shares that social and environmental responsibility is part of their branding, making waste minimization a necessity.


On campus, Harvest table has several strategies for reducing the volume of surplus food generated. Hamada shares that kitchen staff make only as much food as is needed, in an effort to reduce excess production. According to chefs from Harvest Table and the University’s previous food provider, Bon Appetit, waste has decreased with Harvest Table. If there is leftover and edible food that is not considered food waste (like the items in the pastry case or extra pasta), it is donated to thelocal organization focused on feeding hungry people, Inland Harvest. Inland Harvest often picks up this extra food daily, or at a minimum three times per week.


To address food waste, a new composting system was implemented at the end of the 2019 fall semester. Prior to this new addition, both Harvest Table and Bon Appetit had been composting pre-consumer waste at the University’s Sustainable Farm. Pre-consumer compost is characterized as raw food material that is created during the manufacturing of a product, such as potato peels or lettuce heads. This is a small scale, non-industrial composting effort.


To address post-consumer waste, defined as leftover food scraps, Harvest Table has partnered with the City of Redlands. The City of Redlands picks up bags of post-consumer food waste from the University once a week and composts it in an industrial composter in San Bernardino County. The University of Redlands is Harvest Table’s first west coast campus to participate in post-consumer waste composting.


The only location that post-consumer food waste is collected on campus is inside the Irvine Commons. All food waste (meat, yogurt, orange peels, etc.) can be scraped into the compost bins. This means that waste like napkins and compostable bowls and cups cannot be composted. Unfortunately, says Hamada, this is not common knowledge. Due to not reading signage above compost, landfill, and recycling bins in the Irvine Commons or not being aware that only food waste is accepted in the compost bins, the majority of the compost bags are contaminated. If a bag of compost is contaminated, Harvest Table diverts the entire bag to landfill to avoid fines posed by the City of Redlands.


In order to make their composting efforts more productive, Hamada recognizes that Harvest Table needs to improve the signage and create an action plan to educate guests in the Irvine Commons. It is currently unknown how receptive guests are to the current directions on how to separate their waste. Harvest Table is finding it difficult to change the habit of throwing all waste into one bin.


Students have expressed their confusion over the inability to compost the compostable straws, cups, and plates offered in the Bulldog Cafe. Hamada clarifies that even though they are unable to provide a space to compost these items, they want to encourage this behavior. It is “better to give the option than no option at all,” he states. 


Harvest Table is not currently looking to expand their post-consumer waste composting efforts beyond the Irvine Commons, but if they were to in the future it would include tThe upcoming Den or The Launch Kitchen. It is also unknown if the City of Redlands is looking to incorporate more than just food waste into their composting system.


Ultimately, Harvest Table is seeking to passively educate guests on the new waste separation system without intervening their dining habits. Overall, composting efforts on campus have been successful, but Hamada is motivated to improve and make the system the best that it can be. The largest obstacle being faced is the lack of understanding of the importance of composting and how to properly do it.


Read more about the University’s history with organic waste recycling here.