University of Texas, Austin: A Green Case Study

"Most refrigeration is set up to go into defrost at least four times a day, whether or not it's needed," Rodriguez says. "Over holiday weekends or other times when we're closed, rather than defrosting frequently during the day, the refrigeration now only defrosts every other day."

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Demand defrosting also helps prevent bringing down the entire system and then having to use extra energy to power back up. UT Austin Housing and Food Service estimates that the demand-defrost system has saved more than 80 percent on electrical costs.

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A new remote energy management system also monitors the refrigeration equipment and other appliances. University personnel can access the system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, via a personal or office computer or smartphone. Maintenance personnel can log into the system from home to view and adjust individual refrigeration units or the entire system.

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"IT will send me an email if one of the units goes down in temperature or requires service. In fact, service technicians will also receive the same email," Rodriguez says. "I can view everything from my laptop at home, if I want, and make adjustments."

Waste Management

Implementing a complete composting and recycling program led UT's mission to begin tracking and controlling waste. From September 2011 to September 2012, the university collected more than 250 tons of compostable material from a new dish-scraping machine and pulper/dehydrator system, which was then sent to an off-site composting facility, according to Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for the Division of Housing and Food Service. Pre- and post-consumer food and organic waste was collected from clearly marked and colored compost bins throughout the kitchens, dining areas and the campus' athletic stadiums.

"We're now working on creating our own windrow with Texas Disposal Systems, our off-site composter," Mangrum says. Windrows are essentially large mounds of compostable material that are constantly churned and maintained to produce a workable soil-amendment product. By keeping the UT windrow separate at the composting facility, the university hopes to buy back it's own compost to use as fertilizer for the campus' gardens and new UT Micro Farm (more on that later).

"We built into our original contract a buy-back rate and are now in the process of buying back 10 cubic yards of fertilizer," Mangrum says. Eventually, when the university can buy back all of the product from its own windrow, it can put its own stamp on the product and officially close the loop when it comes to waste management. Otherwise, UT's compost would be mixed in with compostable material from other parts of the state.

In addition, UT switched to biodegradable-compostable containers and materials, such as cups and clamshells, for 95 percent of the to-go items in its à la carte facilities. For silverware, the university switched to thinner metal-based silverware that can either be kept by the students for their own use or washed and reused. "The silverware costs about a penny more than compostable per item, but this way we're able to achieve additional waste savings," Rodriguez says.

Trayless Dining

A trayless dining initiative set in motion five years ago has also helped cut down extensively on food waste, and the university has the figures to prove it.

A plate-waste study conducted by UT in 2008 determined the Kinsolving and J2 dining halls tossed away an astonishing 112 tons (or 17.44 percent) of edible food during the academic year. As a result, the campus dining department decided to take action.

The university calculated this food-waste figure by weighing and recording all food returning to the dishroom, and then subtracting inedible portions, such as bones, fruit peels, apple cores and napkins from the total waste. A student-led group decided to curb the waste problem by switching to trayless dining.

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