Twenty-three colleges and universities in New England have joined an EPA ( effort to cut the amount of food that goes to waste. This doubles the participation of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge in 2013, since eleven New England colleges and universities were already participating in the challenge. In 2011, these schools recovered a total of 4,538 tons of food.

The partnership, which was announced in honor of Earth Day, aims to reduce the 1.64 million tons of food wasted each year in the six New England states. EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, encourages organizations to reduce, donate, and recycle as much of their excess food as possible, which saves money, feeds the needy, and helps protect the environment-the triple bottom line. By joining the Challenge, participating schools pledge to reduce food waste going to disposal on their campuses.

The colleges and universities who joined the program this year are:

College of the Holy Cross, Worcester 
Lesley University, Cambridge
Salem State University, Salem
Westfield State University, Westfield
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Boston College, Chestnut Hill
Worcester State University, Worcester
Tufts University, Medford
Assumption College, Worcester
Wellesley College, Wellesley
Bentley College, Waltham

Rhode Island
Johnson & Wales University, Providence
Roger Williams University, Bristol
University of Rhode Island, Kingston

University of Maine, Farmington
University of Maine, Orono
College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor

Lyndon State College in Lyndon
Johnson State College, Johnson
Vermont Technical College, Randolph

New Hampshire
Plymouth State University, Plymouth

University of Connecticut, Storrs
Wesleyan University, Middletown

Sodexo, CompassUSA, Aramark dining hall operators also participate in the Food Recovery Challenge as dining hall contractors. The National Association of College and University Dining Services, who represents this food service industry, formally endorsed the Challenge as part of its sustainability mission. There is a growing recognition in the College and University Sector of the importance of sustainable food management.

The Food Recovery Network, a group of 19 colleges and universities that volunteer to recover surplus food from their campuses and donated to those in need, also formally endorsed EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. The Network was started at the University of Maryland in 2011 and in 2012 became a not-for-profit. The organization recovered more than 130,000 pounds of food in its first year of operation, and continues to promote the connection between wasted food on college campuses and opportunities to aid in local hunger relief. More than 14% of households in the U.S. were food insecure, in 2009, meaning they did not know where their next meal would come from.

Food waste generated by local institutions, hospitals, colleges, universities and restaurants is often actually safe, wholesome food that could feed millions of Americans, according to both the US Department of Agriculture and EPA. EPA is working with institutions and hunger-relief organizations to increase food donations. Composting food waste also leads to important environmental outcomes. Composted food waste creates a valuable soil product that can be used to enhance the quality of soils.

Diverting food waste from landfills also reduces the generation of harmful gases that contribute to climate change. When food is disposed of in a landfill, it decomposes rapidly and become a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. After paper, food waste comprises the greatest volume of waste going into our nation’s landfills. In 2010, 34 million tons of food waste was generated but only 3% of this waste stream was diverted to composting. 

The Food Recovery Challenge is part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of food and other widely-used everyday items through their entire life cycle, including how they are extracted, manufactured, distributed, used, reused, recycled, and disposed.