Preventing food waste at UWL


Picture credit: UWL Sustainability page

Kayleigh Marshall, General Assignment Reporter

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse website says that there are over 2000 students in the freshman class, and 97% of them live on campus. According to the Food Waste Estimation Guide on, the average college student living on campus produces 141.75 pounds of food waste every year. This means that the freshman class alone will produce approximately 283.5 thousand pounds of food waste this year, which is approximately equal to the size of 22 elephants.  

The UWL website says to, “Surround yourself with excellence in sustainability,” so how is the university working to reduce this enormous amount of food waste? One way is through vermicomposting. The UWL website describes vermicomposting as, “the process in which worms ingest food scraps, digest them and then excrete castings—a valuable agricultural amendment”. Every day, food scraps from campus are collected and then taken off-campus to a vermicomposting site. The website says the vermicomposting project was approved, “as a way to reduce waste and turn it into something effective and useful.”  

Students are also getting involved in the effort to reduce food waste at UWL. One way to help reduce food waste is through the UWL Food Recovery Network.  

“The UWL Food Recovery Network is an organization that cares about the conservation of food that can be used to support families in the surrounding local communities,” said Madie Petry, co-president of the UWL Food Recovery Network. “Each Tuesday and Thursday we coordinate a group of volunteers that package the remaining food from the Whitney Dining Center. On Fridays, we deliver this packaged food to the Hunger Task Force, a local food bank serving the La Crosse area.”  

“There is a need for Food Recovery Network on the UWL campus, as well as many other universities, because there is an incredible amount of food waste that occurs each day for food that can still be used,” said Petry.  

“Since we began in the fall of 2017, we have donated over 9000 pounds of food that would otherwise have been wasted in landfills.” said Taylor Hackel, co-president of the UWL Food Recovery Network. This food goes to families in the area who are in need. 

“A recent report by the United Way found that 52% of people in the surrounding area are below the ALICE line meaning they are asset limited, income constrained, employed.” said Hackel. “Such individuals may be employed yet do not have sustainable funds to provide adequate food, clothing, or basic necessities to their families.”  

“Our goal is to become a campus that is more conscious of how resources are processed and effectively distribute the wealth of food throughout the local communities of La Crosse,” said Petry. “We do this because we do not want the uneaten food at Whitney dining hall to be wasted. It does not make sense to waste resources that can be used by others.” 

Apart from reducing food waste on campus, the Food Recovery Network also hopes to raise awareness of the incredible amount of waste that takes place every day at UWL, while families in the community could use the food being thrown away. “Our UWL community often exists in a bubble of a false sense of financial affluence as campus is placed in a nice part of town.” said Hackel. “However, through participation in Food Recovery Network, our volunteers are made aware of the reality of poverty in our community and how something so simple as preventing food from being thrown away can make a huge impact.”  

The easiest way to prevent food waste, however, is to avoid throwing away food. Hackel said, “A lot of the Whitney staff has expressed that they believe students often take more than they can eat.” Students can make a huge difference in preventing food waste simply by taking smaller helpings and going back for more if still hungry.  

“Starting with smaller portions is a great way to practice mindfulness and to be considerate for the staff who have to clean excess food off of plates as well as the individuals who have worked hard to produce your food at all stages of production,” said Hackel. Simply being more conscience of the food being wasted is a good first step to help prevent food waste.   

For more information regarding the UWL Food Recovery Network and opportunities to volunteer to prevent food waste on campus, visit the UWL Food Recovery Network page on

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