All about Clean Plate Day

By Karen Weldon

Ever since Clean Plate Days became a part of Tuesday lunches at Café Mac in 2010, they’ve received mixed reviews. Some students love them, asking us to have them every day, while others dread them because they interrupt the usual lunch routine. As volunteers for Clean Plate Days, we wish to clear up some of the confusions about Clean Plate Days as well make them a more pleasant experience. Getting students to scrape their plates after eating has several purposes. First, by making the uneaten food from students’ plates and bowls visible, we hope to raise awareness about the amount of food diners are wasting during each meal. There is a lot of waste created at each meal. During an average lunch, about one to two sixty-gallon buckets of food are scraped off Cafe Mac eaters’ plates. Additionally, by having students scrape their plates, we are attempting to reduce the dishwashers’ work during that meal. Furthermore, we hope the experiences gives students a taste of the difficulties of cleaning dishes—no one enjoys wrestling five or six dirty napkins out of a dirty cup. Most importantly, we hope to reduce the waste created by leftover food. Even though the food goes towards a worthy cause (feeding pigs!), ideally, we’d like to have hardly any food waste. We aren’t trying to force students to stuff themselves, or to eat that side dish that simply doesn’t taste good. We know that sometimes, diners won’t finish all their food and that’s okay. Rather, by reminding diners to ask for half portions and take only as much food as they can eat, we hope that students will be more conscious about reducing food waste. Regarding this final goal, we seem to have been successful. Last semester, waste from typical lunches hovered around 1.75-2 sixty-gallon buckets, while on Clean Plate Days waste was reduced to about 1 bucket. This semester, we haven’t been reducing waste as much, but we’re hoping that part of the reason lies in the fact that wasting less is becoming a norm. Over the past few weeks, waste has been between 1.25 and .9 buckets, with clean plate days usually coming out lower. While part of this reduction has been caused by fewer students eating in the cafeteria, the amount of waste has decreased since the beginning of the semester where we had 1.75-1.5 buckets of leftover food. Finally, we have been working to make Clean Plate Days less stressful for students, especially during the 1:10 rush to class. We know that occasionally the cleaning station has been a little slow and messy when everyone leaves the cafeteria for class, but we are trying to make sure that enough volunteers are available to make the process run as quickly as possible. Additionally, we’re planning on playing some music near the plate scraping station to lighten the atmosphere, so the change in routine will be less frustrating. As we continue to work to make Clean Plate Days a more successful initiative, we would like to maintain student involvement. This past semester, we sent out a survey to gather student reactions, had an information tabling event earlier in March and held a EnviroThursday forum this past Thursday. To continue the dialogue on Clean Plate Days, we have just instituted a comment box outside of Cafe Mac. If you have any suggestions or concerns regarding Clean Plate Days, please write us a note. refresh –>