Each year, food waste comprises an estimated 25 million tons of solid waste in landfills. In fact, Rider University found that its Lawrenceville campus produced a whopping 8,000 pounds of food waste per week. To help alleviate environmental and financial costs of disposing food waste, the University started a new sustainable initiative that begins in the kitchens of its dining locations.

In February, Rider and its Aramark Dining Services staff started recycling food waste in “toters,” or special containers, that are hauled by Waste Management to Converted Organics, which then creates organic fertilizer for farming, gardens, and lawn and turf applications. The product is sold in Home Depot, Whole Foods and Garden-Wise Distributors, Inc. Previously, Waste Management would haul all solid waste from campus to a landfill in Pennsylvania.

“Rider is the first institute of higher learning in this region to participate in this program with Waste Management,” said Melissa Greenberg, Rider’s sustainability coordination manager, who is directing the effort.

Last spring, Greenberg attended a New Jersey Food Waste Forum at Rutgers University, where she learned about possible ways to divert food waste out of the landfills. Shortly after an audit determined how much food waste was collected on the Lawrenceville campus, Greenberg told Waste Management that she was interested in starting a recycling program. Currently, the effort is underway in the kitchens of Daly Dining Hall, Cranberry’s and the faculty/staff dining hall. So far, 20,480 pounds of food waste has been collected through this new initiative, Greenberg said.

The new program will save the University about $600 to $700 per month. In June, the University plans to switch from the toter system to using Daly’s compactor for food waste and a small dumpster for trash. This change will allow for pickups to be less frequent. Waste Management estimates that the University’s savings by then will be about $1,000 to $1,200 per month. It used to cost Rider $114 per ton to transport trash to the landfill. Now it costs $60 per ton to transfer the food waste to Converted Organics.

“Aside from the financial savings, the reduced frequency of Waste Management trucks on the Lawrenceville campus is good for our carbon footprint,” Greenberg said.

The food waste program is welcome addition to the sustainability efforts already in place at the University. For the past two years, Rider has participated in Recyclemania, a national competition among 600 college and university recycling programs. The 2010 competition is currently underway and will run until Saturday, March 27. During a 10-week period, campuses compete in different contests to see which institution can collect the largest amount of total recyclables per capita. The University community is asked to recycle aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles, all paper (no tissues or towels), magazines, catalogs and cardboard.

 In week five of the competition, Rider ranked 61 out of the 264 participating schools for the Grand Champion division. The Grand Champion is the college or university that demonstrates the greatest achievement in both source reduction and recycling.

“The goal of the program is to raise awareness and generate a buzz about the importance of recycling,” Greenberg said.