UC Merced has been recognized for its efforts to reduce food waste -- part of a much larger vision to create a campus that doesn't negatively impact the environment.
"We follow strict guidelines to how we properly portion food," said Jason Souza, director for dinning services at the University of California at Merced. "It should match the appetite of the customer. But regardless, our expectation is that is either consumed or it qualifies for composting."
The university was among 18 institutions that were honored Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their pledge to significantly reduce food waste.
All schools combined pledge to reduce food waste by 5 percent in one year, according to EPA officials.
UC Merced dining officials are also doing as much as they can to reduce disposable waste. For example, this fall the school began to use what is called the OZZI container-recycling system in lieu of paper disposables.
Students have two options: to dine in or use an eco-reusable container to take their food with them, Souza said. The containers can be used up to 200 times.
"We clean them twice to make sure they are clean and sanitized," he said.
When students are ready to return the container, they go to one of three OZZI machines on campus and insert the container so it can be reused.
Large amounts of food waste is a problem because when excess food, leftovers and scraps are disposed of in a landfill, they decompose and become a significant source of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, according to EPA officials. If less food is wasted, methane emissions will be reduced.
Souza said food waste is a problem.
"We often eat with our eyes, as opposed to with our stomachs," he said.
Jim Genes, special assistant to the vice chancellor of administration at UC Merced, said a hallmark for sustainability was set by founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, and that has manifested itself in the university's ongoing vision.
For example, UC Merced has a triple-zero commitment, which is zero net energy, zero net emission and zero net landfill waste by 2020, Genes said.
"The campus set a goal for itself for the triple-zero commitment, and some of the efforts that we are making toward landfill are being recognized by the EPA," he said.
Genes said the university's motto is piloting sustainable strategies for growing communities. The hope is that the initiatives that are taking place on campus can be replicated in other communities in the Central Valley.
Aside from making a difference in the environment, students are gaining knowledge they can use in their jobs and in their homes, Genes said.
"What our students are learning they will take with them and will apply in their home lives and work lives," he said. "The exposure that they get here to all kinds of sustainable issues, they will carry with them. It will help in advancing the sustainable goals in the state of California."
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.