5 Things to Know About Food Waste at SJSU and Beyond

by | Feb 9, 2022 | Campus Life

SJSU is in compliance with California’s composting law. Students, faculty and staff can toss food scraps, recyclables and other garbage into single-stream trash cans, which is then collected and sorted off-campus.

You may be aware that California’s new composting law, SB 1383, was enacted Jan. 1 as part of a major effort to reduce emissions of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gasses.

If you’re a San José resident, not much has changed for you: The City of San Jose already separates compostables from the rest of your garbage. However, if you live in another part of Santa Clara County, you may need to make adjustments to how you’re disposing of food scraps.

But what is San José State University doing to address food waste on campus and beyond? We talked to two SJSU experts —  Yinghua Huang, associate professor of hospitality, tourism and event management; and Kristen Wonder, an environmental studies alumna and SJSU’s waste and sustainability specialist — about what we’re doing as a university, what to expect down the road, and how you can make a difference.

1. SJSU is in compliance with SB 1383 — and has been for some time.

Kristen Wonder, waste and sustainability specialist

Rest assured that San José State (which recently earned a STARS gold rating for its sustainability practices) has already been separating compostables from other garbage.

“We use single-stream trash cans on campus,” explained Wonder.

The contents of those garbage cans — where the university’s more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff can toss their recycling, garbage and compostables — are collected and sorted off-campus at GreenWaste Materials Recovery Facility.

Wonder added that the university currently diverts 69% to 70% of its waste from landfills

2. But that’s just the beginning. The university is about to undergo an entire waste assessment.

As part of her role, which she stepped into in October, Wonder will create a “comprehensive assessment of waste at SJSU — from purchase to collection to disposal,” she explained. That will involve assessing infrastructure, policies and communication that support the reduction of waste on campus and identifying gaps.

“That will also include reevaluating our single-stream trash bins,” Wonder added. “It’s possible there may be a better or more efficient way to divert waste.”

From there, she’ll create a strategy for a zero-waste campus — a roadmap to ensuring that nearly everything purchased and used on-campus will either be recycled or composted.

3. SJSU faculty are trying to educate the wider community on the environmental and social impacts of food waste. 

Yinghua Huang, associate professor of hospitality, tourism and event management

Thanks to SJSU’s Community Engaged Learning Module Grant, Huang developed an entire online curriculum dedicated to food waste and food security.

The module is available for the public to learn how to reduce food waste as part of the center’s online community learning library,” she shared.

What’s more, Huang collaborates with CommUniverCity to run a student service-learning project focusing on food waste. Undergraduate students in her classes work with San José food rescue organization Hunger at Home to develop marketing materials for enhancing public awareness of food waste and community food security. 

Xiaoyan Li, ’23 Human Resource Management, took Huang’s course in fall 2021. She said she learned that food waste is a big issue that needs to be solved.

“This project taught me a lot about how much of an impact a community can have when working together,” she shared. “More individuals need to be educated on food waste, so they can understand their responsibility to not contribute to the issue.”

4. A big part of SB 1383 will require restaurants and other commercial edible food generators to cut down the amount of edible food that goes to waste.

Restaurants will have to partner with food recovery organizations who will distribute the businesses’ uneaten edible food to those in need. Before, there were several reasons why restaurants might not do this, Huang explained — from proprietors’ concerns that they could be blamed for less-than-perfect quality to not wanting to dedicate the time and resources.

“I hope this is a game changer,” she said. “Now, it’s clear that [restaurants and other businesses] have to be partnering with someone to pass on uneaten food.”

While enforcement could be tricky and inconsistent to start, Huang said the fact that this is now law is profound.

5. You, too, can help reduce food waste, and it’s as simple as adjusting your mindset.

There are simple ways to make a difference, said Huang. First, shop smart, she advised. Don’t buy more than needed and eat your leftovers.

Second, adjust your mindset on expiration dates, she said. 

“If a label says something is ‘best by’ a certain date, that means it is best by that date, and the quality, flavor and taste may be at its peak. But some research says that some foods, such as pasta or canned corn, might be edible for maybe several months or longer [past that date].”

And third, look out for (and purchase) what are known as “upcycled” foods. Huang is conducting research on this sustainable food trend, which uses parts of foods that would typically be discarded for a variety of reasons. They could be misshapen or otherwise non-aesthetically pleasing, or they could be byproducts or scraps of another harvesting process. 

That food, which would otherwise end up in landfills, is reclaimed by food, personal care, household goods and even pet care companies. It’s then used in making new products, explained Huang.

When it comes to being part of SJSU’s on-campus changes, Wonder emphasized that everyone needs to play a part to truly make the future zero-waste campus goal a reality. Her campus-wide assessment will kick off this spring, and she hopes to have a plan of action in place by fall 2022.

“We need strategizing and planning to change campus infrastructure, but we also need education to hopefully create behavior change,” she explained. “We cannot get there without everyone’s involvement.”

Learn more about sustainability at SJSU.