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Many Universities these days have transitioned to the all-you-can-eat style dining plan for their on-campus students. This is a change from the traditional a la carte point system that many universities, including our University, have employed in the past. This new style dining plan has created a lot more waste than was anticipated, as students often have bigger eyes than they do stomachs. As part of our plan to reduce food waste in our dining halls to be in accordance with our mission of sustainability, I propose that the University begin an initiative to persuade students to reduce food waste using written messages posted around the dining halls. Many students understand the importance of being sustainable, they carry reusable water bottles, recycle their trash, and reduce water use within their residence halls, but the behaviors and actions of students are not aligned when it comes to food waste. This appears to be because many students are unable to conceptualize the amount of food that they are wasting and how this affects the university economically as well as the environment.
If you were to ask students how they felt about food waste and if they thought it was important to be conscious of the amount of food they were wasting, many students would express attitudes that would lead one to believe that they were already acting very consciously. This assumption would be incorrect because a lot of times students’ explicit attitudes, their expressed, conscious attitudes, are not always in accordance with their behaviors. By prompting students to think about their feelings about food waste, we can bring it forward in their consciousness. And in the same accord, by combining this effort with written messages throughout the dining hall, we can have students compare their own beliefs and attitudes to the acts that they are performing. For some students, they may not care and their actions will show that, for others, they may care a lot and their actions may also reflect that.
This initiative is targeted more toward those who have the right attitudes about food waste, but who can sometimes be a little too lazy or not thoughtful enough to perform actions in accordance with these beliefs. The hopes are to create a certain level of cognitive dissonance, having thoughts, beliefs, and/or behaviors that are inconsistent with one another, so that they can change their behaviors to match their attitudes. There have been similar initiatives performed in university dining halls that have tested the effectiveness of written messages for lowering the amount of food. In a study performed by Whitehair and colleagues, they selected a group of students from a university dining hall and followed them for 6 weeks, measuring their attitudes about food waste multiple times throughout the process, including the beginning and the end.
While measuring their attitudes, researchers also measured the amount of food that students would have left when returning their plates after eating. Over the 6-week period it was shown that food waste was reduced by 15 percent, and while attitudes didn’t change very much, behaviors did. Surveying students about their attitudes and behaviors in respect to food waste will enable us to understand how students feel and if any other education is necessary.
Once we understand students attitudes and create written messages that include things like the amount of food we waste in our dining halls, or how much money we lose because of the food waste we will be able to change students’ behaviors. The smallest change is a change in the right direction and this initiative should be able to get us moving in the right direction.
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