Penn Team Wows Students for Zero Waste

Students wait in the buffet line with their reusable plates

The Bon Appétit team worked with their rental company to source reusable plates for the Students for Zero Waste conference instead of disposable. Photo credit: Rachael Warriner

The zero-waste movement has taken college campuses by storm, and the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a network of student leaders striving for a world without waste, is on the front lines of the fight against waste in higher education. When PLAN decided to host its annual Students for Zero Waste conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Bon Appétit team had their work cut out for them — and wow, did they rise to the occasion!

Outdoor washing station for reusable containers and mugs

The outdoor washing station where guests could wash their reusable containers and mugs

In order to create a zero-waste event for 500 students from around the country, the Bon Appétiters started preparing six months prior, making sure everything from the serviceware to the signage and menus were zero waste. The team worked with their smallwares rental company to acquire a collection of reusable plates and utensils the company was ready to retire that they could use for this event. (After the event, the company donated the serviceware to a nonprofit.) They put together an outdoor washing station so that people who brought their own reusable to-go containers and mugs had a place to wash them. Printed signage was at a minimum, and of course single-use disposables like coffee stirrers, paper napkins, and sugar packets were nowhere to be found.

Every aspect of the menu was thoughtfully curated, making sure stem-to-root cooking techniques were used throughout — and noted — and Imperfectly Delicious Produce was featured front and center. One of the plant-forward menus highlighted barbecue pulled carrots and coconut cauliflower served with grilled corn salsa and black bean mole; the menu noted that the cobs from the corn and trimmings from the cilantro were then used in a stock base for the mole, while butternut squash seeds were saved and roasted for a salad topper.

A scrape station for composting

All plate waste was scraped for composting. Photo credit: Rachael Warriner

As part of the conference, Bon Appétit’s Waste Programs Manager Claire Cummings led an interactive workshop on fighting waste in food service, conducted through the lens of “moonshot” thinking, inspired by a Google X TED talk. Attendees were introduced to the moonshot approach to problem solving, which is a fresh way of addressing the world’s largest problems using technology and unconventional thinking, and then broke into small groups to play a waste-focused moonshot game. Through the game, students playfully discussed how hot air balloons could solve the problem of people not carrying their reusable to-go containers, how mail delivery trucks could help those with excess food get it to people in need, and how amusement parks could change the expectation that a host should never run out of food.

Attendees left feeling inspired with a new way of approaching zero-waste problems on their campuses and with an understanding of Bon Appétit’s cutting-edge approach to waste sustainability. Who knows, maybe by next year’s conference Bon Appétit will be using hot air balloons to send attendees home with leftovers!