California State University, Fullerton

CSUF Food Choices Favor Green and Sustainable

Campus Food Providers Make the Switch to More Sustainable Practices

Oct. 17, 2012

Vegetables are not the only things that are green in campus dining.

Along with the rest of campus, the operators of food services are doing their part by instituting policies and programs to become more green — from using local produce when possible to using greener packaging.

"We've been doing a number of things over the years," said Tony Lynch, director of campus dining services, which oversees the food operations in the Food Court of the Titan Student Union, the Nutwood Café in College Park, Carls Jr., REC Express and Langsdorf Hall Express. "The biggest step for us is packaging, and it's something that we are trying very hard to do right."

As an example, Lynch mentioned the introduction of The Fresh Kitchen within the TSU Food Court about four years ago.

"That started the ball rolling. Packaging did add to the cost, " Lynch said, noting that at that time, green packaging cost on average of about 60 cents versus 10 cents for traditional packaging — a significant difference from a sales standpoint.

"But we found that use of greener, more sustainable packaging was well-received by our customers," said Crystal Wooldridge, who handles marketing for Campus Dining Services. "It made a statement that we knew what was important to our customers and that they wanted us to do the right thing."

The Fresh Kitchen uses packaging made of 100 percent molded fiber, typically made from recycled paperboard or newsprint, and bagasse, a fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane and sorghum stalks are crushed to extract the juice. The packaging is both biodegradable and compostable.

"So we moved forward in getting our other locations to join in the effort," Lynch said. In some cases, vendors were already using materials that reduced their carbon footprint.

Sustainable and Biodegradable

Other food services operated by Campus Dining are using either packaging made from bagasse or recycled materials. The Cup and Starbucks also offer discounts if customers bring in their own mugs, rather than use the disposable cups.

Recently, when Campus Dining signed a contract to bring Panda Express to the Food Court, a requirement to use recyclable packaging was included. "It was the first Panda Express to use sustainable packaging," said Lynch. "And now, other campuses are asking Panda to do the same for them."

Campus Dining's catering program, OC Choice Catering, is taking part, as well. Sid Patel, catering manager, noted that containers and napkins being purchased are made from sustainable bamboo. In addition, biodegradable cold drink containers are under consideration.

Carls Jr., is the onlylocation run by Campus Dining Services that has yet to make the move to recycled or biodegradable packaging because of franchise packaging rules and regulations, said Lynch, who is confident that the Auxiliary Services Corp.-owned franchise will change as awareness grows.

Over at the Gastronome, located in the student housing complex, the effort to be more green and sustainable also is under way. The facility is operated by Aramark Higher Education.

Among the ways Aramark is being more green:

  • Using food and beverages that are grown and processed within 250 miles of the campus. In addition the produce vendor does not deliver on Wednesdays — thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions one day per week.
  • no use of trays, thereby reducing food waste, water and use of cleaning chemicals
  • fruit and vegetable waste in food preparation is sent to the Fullerton Arboretum for composting.

"We're also offering various ways that students can be involved, such as Meatless Monday, Weigh the Waste and 'I pledge' sustainability commitments, " said Drew Chesen, associate director of conference and dining services in Housing and Residence Life. "We also have a Carbon FOODprint program, which features indicator cards at each of our stations that show the environmental impact of different recipes: high for red meat and heave cheese dishes; moderate is poultry, eggs, rice and shrimp; and low, vegetarian, bread, potatoes, most fish and seafood."

Beyond Packaging

While every effort is made to avoid a daily surplus of food, if an excess occurs at one of the Campus Dining Services locations, the excess is donated to a local shelter, the Fullerton Woman's Transitional Living Center, said Lynch. At the Gastronome, food is made to order for the most part and cooked in small batches, so little leftover or surplus food. When there is cooked leftovers, they are being donated to the Gary Center, while cut up vegetables and bread products are repurposed into soups, salads, croutons and desserts, like bread pudding, said Chesen.

Campus Dining also is looking into greener construction materials for use when a new food service is located on campus. It's one of the newer efforts that they are look into.

"This is the right thing to do," said Lynch. "Its not mandated that we do this — it's a commitment that we've made to make sustainability a part of what we are doing.

"Today our students are more aware of what it means to be green. They are asking for us to move with them and we are."

STARS Rating

Campus food services was included in the recent Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), in which the campus earned a silver ranking.

In the assessment, dining services claimed a 6.32 out of possible 8.5. The measurements looked at policies regarding sustainability, franchise contracts and food donation, as well as use of food grown locally, availability of vegan and vegetarian dining options, sustainable packaging and pre- and post-consumer waste composting.

By: Pamela McLaren, 657-278-4852

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