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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 19, 2007

Students encouraged to take less, leave less food at Residential Dining

For four days next week, University of Iowa students who dine at Burge or Hillcrest Hall Market Places will be encouraged to do something they probably haven't been asked to do since leaving home: clean their plates.

From Tuesday, Oct. 23, to Friday, Oct. 26, students can join the Clean Your Plate Club at tables near the dining facilities' entrances. In exchange for a club button, students pledge to select only as much food as they're likely to finish so that little of it -- and ideally none -- winds up in the trash. The button features a smiling plate in the middle of a tray and the words, "Don't overload me!"

The lesson is an important one. Each year patrons of the two UI dining facilities discard some 359 tons of uneaten food valued at more than a million dollars. To help illustrate how much food is discarded by diners daily, organizers will display trashcans stuffed with old newspapers: seven at Burge, and five at Hillcrest. Additionally, signs and table tents will offer facts about food waste and tips for making healthy food choices and selecting appropriate portion sizes.

Maureen Perkins, a graduate teaching assistant and educational programmer in the Office of Residence Life who developed the awareness campaign for the Residential Dining division of University Housing, said the issue of food waste touches on a number of other important issues, from health and nutrition to waste and the environment.

"Our goal is not just to have them clean their plates," said Perkins. "We want them to put less food on their plates."

On average, Perkins said, Americans throw away more than a quarter of the food they prepare, or some 26 million tons each year; some studies put the amount of waste as high as 50 percent. And unlike the vegetable scraps that can be turned into compost, food discarded from trays often contains meat and other items unsuitable for composting. Such waste ends up rotting in landfills and emitting methane, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

If nothing else, Perkins said she hopes the campaign will make students think twice about loading up their trays with food just because it's there for the taking. In fact, for the last day of the campaign, organizers are considering hiding the trays, which will encourage students to take only as much food as they think they can carry - and eat -- at one time.

"With so many choices, it's easy for your eyes to get bigger than your stomach," Perkins said. "The key is to know when to say 'enough.'"

Greg Black, director of Residential Dining, said the Clean Your Plate campaign is part of a larger effort within University Housing -- and across campus -- to encourage greater stewardship of resources and healthier lifestyle choices, issues that he says are closely related.

For example, Currier Residence Hall is offering students new fitness classes this semester and challenging residents of different floors to take part in fitness competitions. And Hillcrest Hall Marketplace, UI Facilities Landscape Services, and the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center have partnered to pilot a waste-composting project, proposed by four students from a Sustainable Systems class in the College of Engineering's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. To date, about 45 cubic yards of compost have been created.

The leader of the class project, Holly Moriarty, a Peosta native and a senior majoring in environmental engineering and vice president of Engineers for a Sustainable World student group, recently received the Innovative Waste Management Project Award from the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations. For more information about the project, see a City of Iowa City press release at For more information about Moriarty's award, visit

"Everyone wins when we make thoughtful choices about what we consume, how much we consume and what steps we take to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Black said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Maureen Perkins, Office of Residence Life, 319- 335-3700,; Burge Marketplace, Food Services, 319-384-0021,; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,