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Dartmouth Dining Services re-energizes sustainability efforts

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 06/03/09 • Media Contact: Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661

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Dartmouth’s a la carte dining operation isn’t necessarily conducive to sustainability efforts, but that’s motivation to be more creative, according to David Newlove, the Acting Director of Dartmouth Dining Services, also known as DDS. Newlove and Dartmouth’s Sustainability Manager Kathy Lambert have teamed up to make Dartmouth’s 12 dining areas across the campus less wasteful and more sustainable.

Laura Buchanan (left) and Heather Inman work on recycling and composting in Homeplate dining hall
Laura Buchanan (left) and Heather Inman work on recycling and composting in Homeplate dining hall. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

DDS staff have been recycling and composting for years, “but we needed to take a fresh look at how we did these things given the a la carte business model and identify new ways to become more sustainable,” says Lambert, who adds that Newlove is always coming up with great ideas.

Among the new initiatives is the new “plate-default” program in the larger dining areas on campus, which means that real plates are used rather than serving items in “to-go” plastic and paper containers. The goal is to make sure customers buy what they want, but also reduce the amount of waste produced. The plate-default program is new, and it’s a bit too soon to measure its effectiveness, but Lambert and Newlove expect that plate-default dining will greatly reduce the number of the plastic “clamshell” containers that Dartmouth buys and that eventually end up in the landfill.

Another new program has already proved successful. An all you-can-eat brunch is served on Sundays in Home Plate, the second largest dining room on campus. (This offering is the sole exception to the a la carte business model.) On May 17, this meal went tray-less, meaning that customers were not supplied with trays to carry their food. Prior to May 17, the total waste per person at this meal was one pound. On May 17, it was ¾ of a pound. The sustainability benefits go beyond reducing waste with this program, DDS also saves on energy and water needed to wash the trays – a savings that supports plate-default dining.

No trays for the diners in Homeplate.
No trays for the diners in Homeplate. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

“Waste decreased by one quarter with our tray-less brunch,” says Newlove. “It’s a statistic that encourages us to try it in more places. We expect, based on current customer counts, that tray-less dining will prevent at least 15,000 pounds of trash from entering the waste stream each year.”

Tray-less dining and plate-default only tell a small piece of the story of a more environmentally friendly DDS. New options on the catering menu offer low-waste event planning and more local food items. “We are also very aggressive with recycling and composting,” says Newlove. And he’s got the data to prove it. In 2007, when recycling and composting were a bit more lackadaisical, there was 300 cubic yards of trash per week in Thayer Hall, home to three dining options. As of April 30, 2009 that figure has decreased to 200 cubic yards.

Part of the credit is due to the staff behind the scenes that are responsible for separating items, breaking down cardboard, scraping plates, and rinsing out cans. Newlove says DDS employs around thirty people with a range of mental and physical disabilities who are instrumental in contributing to the recycling efforts.

“Not only do we have people who are focused on adhering to recycling rules, we are also making social and economic contributions to our community,” says Newlove. The recycling initiative at DDS extends to smaller practices, such as campus painters reusing large food cans, or the Big Green Bus using DDS’s waste vegetable oil.

Justin Bay working on composting and recycling in Food Court.
Justin Bay working on composting and recycling in Food Court. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Lambert and Newlove also acknowledge their other partner on this initiative: Gary Hill, the director of custodial and recycling services with Dartmouth’s Department of Facilities Operations and Management. Hill has been especially helpful with strengthening the composting program. “Through a pilot program this spring, composting at Courtyard [one of the dining halls on campus] decreased by about 40 percent the trash being generated and sent to the local landfill. We believe we’ll eventually be able to reduce about 70 percent of the trash being generated at Courtyard.”

According to Lambert, composting not only reduces the amount of trash, it also helps reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by diverting organic material that would otherwise emit methane as it decomposes in the low-oxygen conditions of a landfill.

Lambert, Newlove and Hill are optimistic that these revitalized efforts will help Dartmouth reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals. In September 2008 Dartmouth pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 percent by the year 2030, starting with a pledge to a 20 percent reduction by 2015. To meet this goal, the entire campus is collaborating to establish energy-efficient practices and upgrade facilities to incorporate greener technology, and DDS is certainly doing its part. “Less waste means we buy less, which translates to money saved, which will drive our costs down,” says Newlove. “It just makes sense from a business point of view and from a sustainability point of view.”

DARTMOUTH DINING SERVICES: A FEW FACTS AND STATS

  • 27 percent of customers take their food to go
  • Local food accounts for 4 percent of total food purchased
  • Approximately 12,000-13,000 meals are served each day during fall, winter, and spring terms
  • Approximately 250 catering jobs each year
  • Approximately 325 employees, both part- and full-time
  • Thayer Hall (with 3 dining options) recycles more than 1,200 pounds of cardboard and approximately 50 gallons of waste vegetable oil each week.
  • More than 100 cubic yards of trash each week are composted at Thayer Hall.
  • More information at www.dartmouth.edu/~dds

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Last Updated: 9/14/09