Dining Services Sustainability Initiatives 2016-2017  

Real Food Challenge

During a Pitt Student Government Board meeting on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 Chancellor Gallagher signed the University of Pittsburgh onto the Real Food Challenge, making Pitt the first university in the ACC to sign onto the challenge to serve 20% “real food” in Market Central by 2020.

“Real Food” refers to food served in Market Central that meets at least one of four “Real Food” criteria:

  • Local & Community-Based (an independently-owned business within 250 miles of Market Central)
  • Fair (fair-trade certified)
  • Ecologically Sound (USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified, etc…)
  • Humane (animals not raised in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation)

In a statement to the Pitt News, Chancellor Gallagher explained why the university decided to take on the Real Food Challenge, explaining that “not only is the cause worthwhile… it’s good for the animals, the participants, the workers and the environment.”

The signing came a year and a half after students brought up the idea with university administrators and began working with Pitt Dining to determine the current status of “real food” in Market Central. Working alongside Pitt Dining, Real Food Challenge interns determined Market Central served 9% “real food” at the time of signing, an already impressive number considering the national average for universities before signing on to the challenge is between 4-7%. This unique partnership is in part possible thanks to an agreement signed in April 2013 between Real Food Challenge and Sodexo North America to improve food chain transparency for students looking to calculate the “real food” status at their universities.

As of the spring 2016 semester we have achieved 13% “real food” in Market Central and expect to reach our goal of 20% “real food” by 2020.

Food Recovery

Student volunteers from the student group Food Recovery Heroes (a local chapter of the Food Recovery Network) have been collecting surplus food from several locations on Pitt’s Oakland campus since fall 2014. Surplus food is safely delivered to local agencies that are able to feed families and communities fresh, nutritious meals rather than canned, sodium-heavy, non-perishable foods.

Since the fall 2014 semester, students and Pitt Dining Services recovered and delivered more than 4,000 lbs of food to local agencies. Student volunteers currently recover food from the Oakland Bakery & Market, Market To-Go, Market Kosher, Einstein's Posvar, and Einstein's Benedum. Together students, Dining Services, and the local food recovery organization 412 Food Rescue are working to expand recoveries to dining locations across campus.

In May 2016 the University of Pittsburgh's Dining Services became Food Recovery Certified by the Food Recovery Network. Pitt is the first school in the ACC to be Food Recovery Certified. Look for the Food Recovery Certified sticker on dining locations in the fall and know that together our campus is working hard to feed people, not landfills.

Starting in fall 2016 volunteers and Dining Services staff will work together to recover food from Market Central, the Perch, and the Peterson Events Center. Volunteers are always needed for recoveries which take just 15-20 minutes. To volunteer, please email FoodRecoveryHeroes@gmail.com

JANUARY 2017 UPDATE: Thanks to the hard work and dedication of students from Food Recovery Heroes and volunteers from 412 Food Rescue, together we managed to recover and donate 9,338 lbs of surplus food from campus in 2016!

Food Waste

Did you know that 25% of all freshwater used annually in the United States goes to produce food that is never eaten?

Along with engaging in food recovery, Pitt's Dining Services is committed to fighting food waste throught our operations. In spring 2016 we conducted our first food waste audit at the Perch in Sutherland Hall. The audit served as a benchmark for our waste reduction efforts at that location. You can read the full report here. Goals for food waste reduction that developed from that audit include full engagement in food recovery, a 10% reduction in post-consumer plate waste, and the launch of a new educational campaign to (1) raise awareness of the problem of food waste, (2) showcase the efforts Pitt's Dining Services is making to reduce food waste, and (3) give students the tools and information to reduce food waste as they dine on campus.

Pitt Dining continues the fight against food waste in the 2016-2017 acaedmic calendar. We will be performing our first food waste audit of Market Central on Sept. 20 and 28, and a follow-up audit of the Perch on Oct. 19. Please email nick.goodfellow@pitt.edu if you would like to volunteer for the food waste audit. These are very large efforts to document food waste and we appreciate all the help we can get! Volunteers will be compensated for their time with a student meal card.


Greywater system in Market Central

An EnviroPure Greywater decomposition system was installed in Market Central over the summer and is ready to handle all food waste starting in August 2016! Check out this video to learn how the greywater system works.

EPS How It Works-original mp4-1920x1080 from T&S Brass on Vimeo.

Composting at the Perch in Sutherland Hall

Starting January 9, 2017 the Perch in Sutherland Hall will compost all food waste generated from the facility! Based on food waste audit data we expect to divert 33 tons of food waste from landfill to compost each semester.

Food waste including uneaten leftovers on a diners plate, kitchen prep trimmings, tea bags, and napkins can all be composted. The compostable waste at the Perch is collected by AgRecycle, a commercial compost facility in Braddock, PA which is able to turn the material into soil within 90 days.

Food waste is usually sent to landfill where it decomposes anaerobically, a process which releases methane -- a greenhouse gas 80x more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Landfills account for 23% of U.S. methane emissions. Compost facilities like AgRecycle expose the decomposing waste to oxygen so it does not release methane. This process also recovers the nutriends left in the food waste that would otherwise have been lost in landfill. You can learn more about composting in the U.S. at the EPA's webiste.

Based on data collected from food waste audits, we expect to divert 33 tons of food waste from landfill to compost each semester. That's a greenhouse gas savings equivalent to taking 13 cars off the road!

Composting service is currently only available at the Perch and for Zero-Waste events. If you are interested in composting at your Zero-Waste event on campus, please contact Pitt Dining Sustainability Coordinator Nick Goodfellow at nick.goodfellow@pitt.edu



The BYO[Bag] (Bring Your Own Bag) program launched through Pitt Housing & Dining in 2014 after more than five years of student initiatives to reduce plastic bag use on campus including a campaign that collected and recycled more than 20,000 plastic bags from students.

After the add/drop period at the beginning of each semester students are charged $0.25 for every plastic bag they use when shopping at dining locations on campus. This fee is completely avoidable – all you have to do is BYO[Bag]!

The best part of the BYO[Bag] program is that 50% of the proceeds from the bag fee as well as 50% of the sales from the BYO[Bag] reusable bags ($6 at QuickZone stores and the Oakland Bakery) will be donated to the Pitt Green Fund to support other student sustainability initiatives like BYO[Bag]. More information about the Pitt Green Fund can be found here: http://pittgreenfund.com/

SPRING 2016 UPDATE: Thanks to student participation in this program, the Oakland campus went from using 15,000 plastic bags each week prior to the start of the program to using just 5,465 in the entire spring 2016 semester!


Following the success of the BYO[Bag] campaign, Dining Services has relaunched it's reusable mug program as BYO[Mug]. Students, faculty, staff, and visitors are encouraged to use a reusable mug to reduce disposable cup waste and reduce their environmental impact. Customers can save 25 cents on espresso beverages when they use a reusable mug or pay just 99 cents for brewed coffee (hot or iced).

Participating locations include: Cathedral Coffee, the Oakland Bakery & Market, RxPresso, Hill O'Beans, Cafe Victoria, Common Grounds, University Store Cafe, Side Bar, Cup & Chaucer, Langley Simply to-go, and Bunsen Brewer.

Customers are asked to remove the lid of their mug before they hand it to the casier. Only mugs with lids may be accepted. For safety reasons we cannot make drinks in glass containers such as Mason jars. Reusable mugs must be no larger than 30 ounces.


Plant-based dining on campus

Since 2015 Pitt Dining has earned an "A" score on Peta2's Vegan Report Card. Dining locations like Market Central and the Perch always offer meatless options for students as do many of the retail locations on campus including Taco Bell and Einstein's Bros. Bagels.

Starting in January 2017 Pitt Dining will launch the "Vegan/Vegetarian Collective." The collective will be a forum for students and Pitt Dining culinary teams to discuss plant-based food options on campus and ways that they can be improved.

Fossil Free Fuel

Dining Services gives all of its waste cooking oil from Market Central, The Perch, Cathedral Cafe, and Schenley Café to Fossil Free Fuel through the Refuel Pittsburgh initiative. Fossil Free Fuel converts waste fryer grease into automotive fuel for use in diesel engine vehicles and machinery. Replacing diesel fuel with vegetable oil improves local air quality, water quality and keeps fuel dollars in the regional economy. To learn more about this process visit: http://fossilfreefuel.com.

Grounds for Growth

Students drink a lot of coffee which means we brew a lot of coffee on campus. Used coffee grounds may not be useful for brewing coffee anymore but that doesn't mean they're trash! The grounds for growth program uses student volunteers to collect used coffee grounds and makes them available to local gardeners and farmers for free. Used coffee grounds are nutrient-rich and can be used in compost and as a soil additive. In the 2015/2016 academic year we diverted 1,120 lbs of used coffee grounds from landfills and this year we hope to double that! Pitt Dining locations that participate in the Grounds for Growth program include:

  • The Oakland Bakery & Market (available in to-go bags: see photo)
  • Market Central

The Grounds for Growth program depends on student volunteers. If you'd like to volunteer for this program, please email Pitt Dining sustainability coordinator Nick Goodfellow, nick.goodfellow@pitt.edu

JANUARY 2017 UPDATE: Due to the cold weather our farm partners who collect used coffee grounds from campus have suspended pickups until the spring. As such, we've had to suspend the program until we're able to locate a farm or organization that can collect the coffee grounds.

Energy Star Appliances and Track Lighting System

Dining Services utilizes a variety of energy star appliances including walk-in coolers, hoods, dishwashers, and air screen coolers. These appliances have been certified as using less energy than conventional ones. 

For more information on Energy Star Appliance, go to www.energystar.gov

Market Central, the largest dining facility on-campus, recently switched to a Lutron lighting system. The new lighting system allows individual zones to be powered down once a specific platform in Market is closed. The new system conserves energy by only providing lighting to areas that need it.

Sustainable Cleaning

Eco Lab Apex Warewashing Systems are used in all Dining Services facilities to wash flatware, utensils, and cookware. Using these appliances reduces our chemical waste by 30%.

Local Produce

The main produce distributor for Dining Services is Paragon Monteverde, a company dedicated to supplying local and organically grown fruits and vegetables.  Paragon distributes food from several local farms including Dawson’s Orchard, Wexford Farms, and Brenkles Farm.


Pennsylvania Map

Trayless Dining

Dining Services removed all trays from both of its largest all-you-care-to-eat facilities in the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. Eliminating the trays has been highly effective in reducing food waste by preventing students from loading up their trays with large amounts of food that typically end up in the trash. Thousands of gallons of water as well as a large quantity of dish detergent have also been saved because of the decreased number of dishes and the lack of trays to wash.


For questions, comments, or suggestions on Sustainability in Dining Services, please email Dining Services Sustainability Coordinator Nick Goodfellow - nick.goodfellow@pitt.edu

Last updated January 25, 2017.

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