The goal of this research was to understand the process of food service sustainability through a limited “cradle-to-grave” analysis of Southern Illinois University’s campus dining facilities. The process of researching the dining halls’ sustainability was broken into three separate stages: food mileage analysis, food waste analysis, and vermicomposting analysis.

The first stage examined the food mileage for each food item. Using a mileage calculator and a carbon footprint calculator, we were able to determine miles traveled and the amount of CO2 produced by the university. Results showed that the dining halls were 15.67% sustainable in its food purchasing process. The goal for the university was to obtain a 20% purchase rate of sustainable products. The total carbon foot print for the university is 1538.06 tons of CO2 for 1,990 items. The tonnage output is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 64,085.83 propane cylinders (carbonfund.org). The total mileage of the food items is 775,394.50 miles. With further investigation, the university will be able to find local producers which will increase the percentage of sustainability by reducing the CO2 and mileage output.

The second stage of the research calculated the average amount of waste that was produced per student. SIUC’s dining halls utilize a new trayless system of service, where trays are removed and students have to fill up a plate instead of a tray. This analysis was performed on two separate days for each of the three serving periods to obtain a per student average. After the serving period had ended, the waste was gathered and weighed on a scale. The average food waste produced per student was 1.04 ounces a day. In 2007, the university’s recycling center conducted a plate waste study and calculated food waste to be approximately 4-ounces per person with trays. Currently, the waste produced is very limited. This demonstrates that trayless dining has proven effective and needs to be continued.

The final stage was a vermicomposting analysis in which a pre-composting phase was implemented to increase the amount of food waste that could be reduced within the university dining setting. The amount of time taken for vermicomposting to reduce the food waste was longer than anticipated. The longer time frame translated into additional monies to pay for utilities for the building and payroll for the workers. Vermicomposting, although ecologically friendly, does not appear cost effective.

This study demonstrates how universities can begin the process of sustainability. By using several methods that we have investigated to increase sustainability, food mileage calculations and tray-less dining, universities should be able to implement more sustainable practices in order to encourage making themselves green.