Sustainable Dining

Keith Soster
Release Date: 

Project Team in Tallahachee

Small plates, recycling, packaging, makes munching at U-M sustainable  

From trayless dining and just-right serving sizes to composting and green certifications, MDining was the first department on campus to achieve the university's Platinum-level certification for sustainability, presented by the Office of Campus Sustainability two years ago. Since then, MDining staff have added zero waste, 100 percent composting, and enhanced food recovery and recycling efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Read more here.

MDining enhances sustainable dining, earth-healthy choices

Did you know that making the right choices when dining can be healthy for you, but also for the planet? That win-win situation has been a primary focus of MDining.  In 2015 Michigan Dining’s nine dining halls, more than 24 cafes and markets, and administrative offices received the highest Sustainable Workplace certification by the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS). Since then, in addition to making sure students have healthy options for their bodies, almost every aspect of dining is also a healthy choice for our environment.

Project Team in Tallahachee

MDining achieved OCS Platinum status after an evaluation of  recycling practices, procurement of sustainable products, implementing pre- and post-consumer composting in all locations, and for procuring and promoting sustainable foods.

But it didn’t stop there. Ninety seven percent of dining staff are planet blue ambassador certified, going through a sustainability training that focuses on the campuses’ five sustainability goals -- waste ,water, food, energy, and culture. While serving approximately 25,000 meals a day (over 4 million per year), staff have been able to keep sustainability at the forefront of dining practices, including:

  • Trayless dining -- MDining has eliminated trays in every dining halls for two reasons: trayless dining helps students choose meals more carefully (healthy for you) and also accumulates less waste (healthy for the planet.)
  • Just-right servings -- Small plates let students try various meal options without throwing away as much into the landfill. Diners can always come back for more.
  • Local sourcing -- MDining works directly with local farmers and producers to include sustainable foods in menus. It has a goal of serving 20 percent of sustainable food on campus purchased from local suppliers within a 250-mile radius. More than 30 Michigan farmers and suppliers provide MDining with fruits, vegetables, honey and more. And just recently, U-M’s Campus Farm began making deliveries to dining halls of food grown right on campus.
  • Food Recovery – The student-run Food Recovery Network has partnered with Michigan Dining to collect surplus perishable food that would otherwise go to waste, and donate it to people in need. To date, FRN has recovered nearly 20,000 pounds of food.
  • Composting – MDining halls, Michigan Catering events and Michigan-led retail outlets now provide bins and resources for sustainable composting and recycling at 100 percent of its locations. By 2016, MDining had reduced waste from landfills by 29.6%. That’s 814,451 pounds diverted.
  • Zero Waste Events – MCatering and MDining ZeroWaste events are coordinated and administered so that every item that would normally go into the waste stream is being diverted either into compost or recycling. More than 320 zero waste events have taken place on campus already.
  • Recycling – Blue to Go packaging and all of the cups, food trays, napkins, stir sticks and paper products used in dining halls and cafes are recyclable or compostable. Even the cooking oil is picked up and recycled into other useable products including biodiesel fuel and animal feed.
  • Recently designated as an Ocean Hero for “leading the world towards a more sustainable future,” U-M was the first Big Ten university to receive Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody certification. The designation ensures that fish served by the university meet environmental sustainability guidelines. The MSC certification label can be seen in all university dining halls, making it easy for diners to choose seafood which has been caught by environmentally-conscious fisheries.

So next time you reach for a delicious menu option in one of the MDining locations, you can be assured the choice is not only healthy for you, but for the environment as well!

 Keith Soster is the Director of Student Engagement for MDining. At the core of Keith’s work is outreach, putting him in constant with  students, suppliers and campus stakeholders with a focus on advancing initiatives for a greener, healthier campus. He is responsible for student and community connections both on and off campus, and serves as the sustainability lead for Student Life.