As We Waste Away
story | Avani Adhikari, Contributing Reporter
photo | Elesin Teo, Chief Photographer
Like many students in Yale-NUS College, my first reaction to the weighing scales in the dining hall food disposal bins was a resounding “huh?” It snuck up on me like it snuck up on everyone else on campus, appearing out of the blue one day to seemingly chide me about my food wastage habits.
I initially took it as an experiment and observed the measurement readings at the end of each meal. Across a few days, the average weight of waste stood at about 12kg per meal. Three meals per day across three dining halls; that’s around 108kg of waste each day at least. This is a problem—we are wasting too much food. But is there really anything we can do about it?
The obvious course of action is to take only as much as we need and consume all of it. Eat the apple down to the core. Gnaw the chicken down to the bones. But the solution is not that simple.
Talk to any of the aunties behind the serving bar and they will tell you with a somber face, “We throw away everything that remains at the end of the day.” That includes full trays of cooked food that does not even get served. Even if you try to take less, if the food prepared is not all gone, it ends up in the food disposal.
A simple look at the Guidelines to Food Donation published by the National Environmental Agency of Singapore will tell you that simply donating extra food is also not a viable option. There are strict rules to ensure that cooked food must be served within the same day and that the food must be transported to the donation banks in such a way that “hot food [should be kept] above 60C and cold food below 5C.”
Under such regulations, even the most earnest philanthropist will find themselves cowed, never mind the busy folks at Sodexo who are under pressure to please the entire student and staff body.
The question to ask is obvious: “What’s the point of having these weighing scales shame us when, no matter what we do, the food ends up wasted?”
When Kwok Yingchen ’18 of the Yale-NUS Dining Committee was asked this question, they had this to say: “Sodexo is hoping to have an external vendor collect the food waste eventually, but there’s questions of how to store it and send it for collection hygienically. Right now, their biggest priority is offering quality food and knowing the eating patterns of diners.”
By looking at the scales every day, Sodexo hopes to work out dining preference to optimize the menu. Despite our admittedly occasional lack of understanding towards their teething pains, they have been trying to work out the best meal course for us all along.
This, however, does not mean that we are free to throw as much food as we want. Sodexo may have originally installed these weighing scales with the intention of helping them make their transition easier, but they have also unveiled a problem of waste on campus.
When more than 100kg of waste just ends up in the trash every single day, we have to admit there is a problem. I have never been the “environmental tree hugger,” but something inside my twinges every time the weighing scale lights up. We are meant to be a community of broad-minded individuals who are going to change the future, but can we really say that when our dining patterns are so wildly unsustainable right now?
I don’t know what’s the perfect solution for this—we can try composting, or try to find external vendors to distribute food—but if I have learned anything about Yale-NUS in my time here, it is that we are able to find the most unconventional solutions to many of our problems. It is difficult and complex, but it is time for us to talk about our garbage.