Expand Food Recovery

Reducing food waste on campus...

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Food Recovery is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Enhance and expand Cornell’s food recovery program.

Goal: Implement practices and motivate patrons to reduce food waste at dining facilities and programs on campus.

Cornell Dining has implemented several business practices specifically designed to reduce food waste in their facilities on campus. These include:
1) Decreasing portion sizes so that students and staff discard less food.
2) Implementing tray-less dining to discourage students/staff from taking more dishes (and food) than they will actually eat.
3) Preventing food waste through improved tracking of prepared food to more accurately predict how much food to serve on a daily basis.
4) Incorporating excess food that has not been placed in service (food that has not been taken from cold or hot holding) into menu options that will be served the following day.
5) Donating perishable foods to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier (FBST) during academic breaks when many dining units are closed. This typically occurs two or three times per year, and the value of donated food ranges between $2,500 and $5,000. Donations are consolidated at one unit for pick up by FBST, and the food is redistributed to the food bank’s six-county region. Cornell Dining has partnered with FBST since 2010 in this “food rescue” program.

After transitioning to tray-less service at all units between 2009-2012, Cornell Dining has reduced the use of water and chemicals in its facilities – but there is no way to assess exact usage and cost reductions specific to dining operations. Dining halls are rolled into the overall building meters, and there are currently no separate meters for measurement of water, energy, and heat loss for individual dining halls.

Another important focal point for Cornell Dining is to help motivate students to reduce their own personal food waste. In fall 2013, student sustainability coordinators launched a “Taste, Don’t Waste” campaign in North Campus dining halls. The goals of the campaign were to encourage students to take smaller portions and consider the impact of their own food waste on the economy and environment. Student coordinators weighed food waste prior to the campaign and then again after the campaign, and they surveyed diners to assess the effectiveness of the campaign in reducing personal plate waste in selected dining units. The next phase of the campaign will involve more formal outreach programs targeted at first- and second-year students to educate them about how their actions in the dining hall can substantially reduce the volume of wasted food.

Many opportunities exist to expand food recovery beyond Cornell Dining facilities to other food outlets, caterers, and programs (e.g. Athletics) on campus. These opportunities need to be assessed and included in future efforts to enhance Cornell’s food recovery program.

Next Steps

  • Design the next phase of the “Taste, Don’t Waste” awareness campaign.
  • Continue plate waste studies and awareness raising to reduce personal food waste.
  • Evaluate and refine existing strategies to reduce food waste in selected dining units.
  • Work to engage other food providers on campus, as well as Cornell Dining, to implement practices to reduce food waste in their operations.
  • Collaborate with the Cornell chapter of Food Recover Network to recover food from Cornell Dining venues and redistribute to food pantries and feeding programs.


Develop tools to assess the overall impacts of practices such as tray-less dining on reducing water, energy, and heat loss for individual dining halls.