Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reducing Food Waste on Campus

Reducing Food Waste on Campus

Food. It’s amazing. We all know this to be true. 

What’s not amazing about food, is that nearly 40% of food in America is wasted. Can you imagine throwing away 40% of your pizza? Well probably not because that would be crazy.

While we may not be throwing out perfectly good pizzas (cringes), we often waste food because we don’t plan very well. We’ve all opened our refrigerators and pulled out a half-full carton of strawberries only to find them sporting a furry layer of mold. 

Being conscious of how much food we eat or throw away can be challenging. When you’re a university student or simply purchasing food from a campus market or cafe, you might not have much control over where your food waste goes or how much waste is produced from preparing your food.

That’s why it’s so important that MDining is dedicated to reducing food waste on campus. There are different strategies that the dining halls uses to limit food waste as well other types of waste.

Off the truck

  • Cardboard boxes and plastic wrapping from storing and shipping food are all recycled behind the scenes.

In the kitchen

  • All pre-consumer waste in the MDining kitchens is taken to to the City of Ann Arbor Compost Site, operated by WeCare Organics.
    • Pre-consumer waste includes things like carrot peels and onion skins.
  • At the South Quad dining hall, food headed toward the compost pile is run through a pulper and extractor. This process extracts water from food waste and reduces its volume which can make it easier to transport.
  • The student group, Food Recovery Network, collects surplus food and donates to food banks and people in need.

On your plate

  • “Just ask!” The dining halls use small plates which lets you try different foods without creating a lot of waste. So when you want a little more of a particular dish, just ask!
  • Tray-less dining is implemented at all of the dining halls. This lets you plan your meals carefully and you waste less food.
  • All of teabags and coffee stirrers are compostable or recyclable as well. 

Sustainable Dining Programs New to Campus

MDining is also working on new projects to extend post consumer composting to cafe locations on campus. Be sure to stop by the Fields Café in Palmer Commons this summer to check out their post-consumer composting pilot program. 

Unlike the current cafe locations on campus, the Fields Café allows customers to choose the type of eating utensils (to-go plastic or silverware) and encourages customers to use the bulk style condiments and hot beverage creamers and sweeteners. This cafe also incorporates local and sustainable sourced ingredients in its farm-to-table menu. 

Whats unique to this composting pilot program is its method of limiting contamination. Contamination occurs when people accidentally put non-compostable items, like plastic, into the compost bin.

The signage for the compost bins at this cafe will include images of all the specific menu items that can be composted. All you need to do is check the sign to see if what you ordered is on the compost list. Say goodbye to deliberating between the compost bin and the trash bin.

Keep your eyes open for a similar program starting at the School of Public Health JavaBlu café

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Flint Water Bottle Crisis

Flint Water Bottle Crisis

In the midst of one environmental crisis another one emerges.

Without access to safe drinking water, Flint residents have been forced to get water from their one alternative—the plastic bottle. Now they are faced with the challenge of disposing millions of empty water bottles.

One Flint family uses 151, 16. 9 oz. water bottles per day.[1]
The state has already distributed more than 176,000 cases of bottled water, but the total number of used up bottles will keep growing.[2] Even celebrities are involved in donating bottled water. In January Puff Daddy and Mark Wahlberg donated one million bottles[3]. Until Flint residents have access to safe drinking water, they will continue to rely on these donations.

The fear is that most of these water bottles will end up in a landfill instead of being recycled. While Flint does have a curbside recycling program, very few people use it or even know about it. The recycling program is new, running for just two years, with only 13-16% participation.[4] Current recycling bins are overflowing, but there are still not enough bins distributed to residents in order to capture all of the empty plastic bottles.

Republic Services, the company handling Flint’s waste and recycling, has the resources to recycle all of these bottles. The problem is educating Flint residents about their recycling program. In his interview with Michigan Radio, Steve Montle, a consultant with Resource Recycling Systems, explains that it will take money to establish a successful public education program to get residents recycling.[5]

At the Flint Muslim Food Pantry, every case of water comes
with a note asking residents to recycle their used water bottles.
Despite the risk that this massive influx of plastic may be directed towards the landfill, Montle emphasizes an upside to these events. As more bottles are recycled, the more financially successful Flint’s recycling program will become.[6] However, it will take more people recycling in Flint to see this benefit.

Republic Services, public schools, and local food banks are developing recycling education programs to promote higher recycling participation rates. 

Listen to Michigan Radio’s full Environmental Report here.


[1] Zdanowicz, C. (2016, March 7). Flint family uses 151 bottles of water per day. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from
[2] Adams, D. (2016, January 28). Millions of plastic bottles flood Flint amid water crisis. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from
[3] Chuck, E. (2016, January 28). Flint's Next Issue: What to Do With Empty Water Bottles? Retrieved May 17, 2016, from
[4] [5] [6] Williams, R. (2016, January 28). Flint does have a recycling program, but not a lot of people use it. Retrieved May 17, 2016, from

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

recycled art: an unconventional way to reduce waste

Recycled Art

We live in the time of K-cups and plastic bags—a use-it-once mentality. Most people don’t think twice before throwing away their Starbucks coffee cup and once it enters the bin, its fate becomes a mystery. However, readers of this U-M Recycling blog have most likely thought about their waste. You’ve wondered if something was compostable or suggested to a friend that they should recycle that newspaper, but have you ever imagined that what you throw in the bin could take on a new life, before it hits the trash pile? Artists across the world are reimagining lives for the things we commonly throw away. It’s called recycled art. 

The artists behind recycled art take the items we throw away and turn them into something entirely new. These materials connect us to the artwork and prompt us to consider our own waste. While these exceptional creations may be unconventional, we can look to them and ask ourselves how we reduce waste in our own lives.

What came first?

Kyle Bean

Kyle Bean is a London artist who uses everyday objects to create his pieces. The image below he has constructed a chicken made from the eggshells that we all find in our kitchen waste. [1] If you can compost, then throw your egg shells into the compost bin!

Corner Forest

Yuken Teruya

Based in New York, Yuken Teruya creates artwork inspired by his life in Japan. In his project, Corner Forest, he uses toilet paper rolls to create a forest that appears to be suspended in the air. He describes his role in the piece as “...helping the paper awakens its ability to come to life.”[2]

While you might not transform your toilet paper rolls into artwork, you can extend their usefulness by putting them in the recycling bin!


Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Real Life is Rubbish 

These two British artists use an assortment of items commonly thrown away to assemble sculptures that cast shadows. These shadows create highly accurate profiles of the artists. In this piece, Real Life is Rubbish, 2002, you can find metal and wood scraps, cans, and toilet paper rolls incorporated into the sculpture in addition to countless other items that come from the waste bin.[3]

Blowing Bubbles

Derek Gores

This New York Artist recycles magazines, labels, and digital materials by creating elaborate collage portraits.[4]

We all remember making a magazine and newspaper collage in grade school. You can recycle your college reading materials at UMICH if you don’t think you’re up for another round of cut and paste!

Iri5 (“Iris”)

This Chicago based artist recycles cassette tapes to create her unique portraits. [5]

While we may not have old cassette tapes lying around anymore, electronic waste is quickly filling up landfill space and may contain potentially hazardous materials. Dispose of your e-Waste responsibly at the annual free e-Waste Recycling Event hosted by the University of Michigan’s Office of Campus Sustainability each spring!


[1]  Bean, K. (n.d.). Kyle Bean. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from Art
[2]  Teruya, Y. (2003-2009). Corner Forest. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from 
[3]  Noble, T., & Webster, S. (2002). Real Life is Rubbish. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from
[4]  Gores, D. (n.d.). Commissions/Clients. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from
[5]  Simmons, E. I. (n.d.). Iri5. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from