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J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Jan;113(1):63-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.09.015.

Written messages improve edible food waste behaviors in a university dining facility.

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Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics, Kansas State University, 110 Justin Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.



Sustainability and going green have become popular trends among foodservice organizations. Despite this interest, foodservice operations still produce large amounts of edible food waste and contribute significantly to waste management problems.


The purpose of this operational study was to determine how to introduce food waste behavior change into a dining facility using a simple message-type intervention that requires little sustained administrative support and can provide optimum effect.


The population for this study was 540 university students living in residence halls and participating in a meal plan. This study assessed whether simple prompt-type message interventions had an influence or if the addition of more personally relevant feedback-based data elicited greater change in student beliefs and food waste behaviors. A written questionnaire and individual student tray waste tracking were used to gather data. Simple print-format messages were evaluated, allowing the effect of an affordable message campaign to be determined.


Students had a higher-than-neutral level of belief, but did not indicate a strong conviction toward environmental sustainability or food waste. The edible food items disposed of on 19,046 trays in this all-you-care-to-eat university dining operation were evaluated. On average, more than 57 g edible food was disposed of per tray, accumulating to >1.5 tons of food waste during the 6-week study. The simple to-the-point prompt-type message stimulated a 15% reduction in food waste. The addition of a more personalized feedback-based message did not stimulate an additional change beyond that of the prompt message.


These findings indicate that simply making university students aware of the topic of food waste may be useful in improving their behaviors and the sustainability of the foodservice facility.

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