Notre Dame leads the way in eliminating food waste

NOW: Notre Dame leads the way in eliminating food waste

Whether you land at Legends or at one of many catered events around the stadium on Saturdays, you know the food prep and choices are second to none. But it's what the university is doing with the leftovers that lands Notre Dame in rarified air.

Campus dining is one of the university’s largest departments and includes catered events on game day at Legends and numerous on campus restaurants.

“This is a class of students, a group if you will, who has really seen food from multiple lenses. This is the generation who grew up watching the food network,” said Chris Abayasinghe, the Senior Director of Campus Dining.

With an eye for world class cuisine, under his watch, Notre Dame has become a melting pot of food and culture.

“We enrich the journey for friends and family in celebrating the spirit of Notre Dame. That is how we are very mission centric in what we do,” Abayasinghe said.

Part of that mission includes a topic that is at the heart of his journey.

“Sustainability is an element in everything we do. What are we actually doing about minimizing waste. How are we addressing food insecurity in the community? There is something wrong with food waste. And there is an opportunity for us through food diversion, through food recovery to spread it out. And essentially minimize our role in that food waste,” Abayasinghe said.

Abayasinghe and his team partnered with student researchers and the office of sustainability to see how they could tackle the one ton of food waste the university was putting out every day.

To do this, Notre Dame put out a two pronged approach.

“When it sits out and it isn’t consumed, our catering staff bring it back in carts where they identify is this consumable can they reuse some of these ingredients? Is it safe to reuse some of these ingredients?” said Allison Mihalich, the Senior Program Director of Sustainability for Notre Dame.

What happens next depends on the answer to that question. For food that is safe, they have one approach.

“Cultivate comes to campus and the stadium while the game is being played. Extra food is being transported. Food is being cooled down appropriately and eventually frozen to give out to the community,” said Jessica Brookshire, the Associate Director for Public Affairs for Notre Dame.

“The mission of food rescue is to connect that leftover food that would otherwise be thrown away and to connect it with those who are food insecure and don’t have the means to get that food,” said Reagan Mulqueen, a senior at Notre Dame.

If the food is not safe to reuse, it gets ground up.

Acting as a powerful food disposal Grind2Energy uses anaerobic digestion to break down any particles. Food is sent down to the grinder where it’s mixed with water. The broken down remnants are sent through this pipe to a giant holding tank outside the building.

That mixture is called a slurry.

Up to 5,000 gallons can be stored in one tank and the university has three on campus.

Once or twice a week a septic truck will transport the slurry to Homestead Dairy in Plymouth.

Floyd Huein’s dad started the farm back in 1945 and it has been in the family ever since.

“Well he came back from WWII, got married and my grandfather helped him get the farm. He started with 9 cows, some chickens and hogs,” Huein said.

Now, 75 years later, Homestead Dairy has well over 4,000 cows and is a local leader in green energy thanks to two digesters they purchased in 2013.

“We had the opportunity to be more sustainable, reuse the manure and create electricity with that manure. Capturing that methane and keeping it out of the air creating electricity. How exciting is that,” Huein said.

The septic tank carrying Notre Dame’s food waste gets dumped here, gets mixed with manure from Homestead Dairy cows and is stored in 900,000 gallon tanks.

From there methane gas rises to the top, goes through the pipes and is sent out to the power grid where it ultimately creates enough electricity to power 1,000 homes per day in Plymouth.

Two leaders working side by side hoping to leave a cleaner community for the next generation.

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