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Waste Not, Want (Compost) Rot: How Burgmann's Dining Hall is fighting climate change, one plate at a time

When Tanya Austen joined as Site Manager of Chartwells Catering in September 2022, she enthusiastically joined the resident-led Green Committee's efforts to minimise the Burgmann Dining Hall's food waste. Together with Chef Gerrad Mazuran and his culinary team, and armed with a food waste tracking app, they set out to make some big changes...

Some unappetizing facts:

$3,800 is the annual cost of food wasted by the average Australian family. (Source)

25% of the food wasted globally could feed all 795 million undernourished people in the world. (Source)

8% of all greenhouse gas emissions each year are due to food loss and waste (source), meaning the emissions from our food waste rotting in landfills is more harmful than total emissions from flying (1.9%), plastic production (3.8%), and oil extraction (3.8%). (Source)

On a national level, the federal government has set a goal for the nation to recycle 80% of its organic waste (like food scraps) by 2030, because right now, the average Australian household throws away 5 kilograms of food waste every week (Source).

Naturally, this food waste average is even greater for dining halls—an unpalatable pickle for Tanya Austen, Site Manager for the Burgmann Chartwells catering team, and Burgmann residents.

'When I joined the Burgmann College community in September 2022, I was instantly shocked at the amount of food going into the bin and the lack of information around it,' says Tanya. 'Why did it go in the bin? Did we cook too much? Did it spoil? How much did we waste in weight and monetary values? Could we have prevented it going in the bin?'

Tanya's concern was echoed by Burgmann residents and Green Committee members Patrick Gleeson, Aleisha Knack, Simone Antich. The Green Committee had already begun making strides toward reducing food waste prior to Tanya joining Burgmann College, starting in 2021 with manual plate-waste compost collection, but they were ready to go even further.

They approached Tanya and the Chartwells team in 2022 with ambitious plans for how food waste could be reduced or eliminated, and their plans were met with enthusiasm.

‘To begin combatting this issue, we utilised a kitchen waste tracking system called Leanpath, which helps sites track and manage the impact of food waste,’ says Tanya. ‘From there, we were able to itemise, categorise and make data-driven choices to reduce our overall food waste in the kitchen.

‘By recording and tracking this data, we were able to begin analysing our big waste items and manage them more effectively. We recorded, categorised, then drilled down further into our kitchen waste—setting achievable waste goals and monitoring our progress over time—then we shared this data with our culinary team.’

Tanya said the kitchen staff was similarly shocked to see the extent of the massive food waste the Burgmann College dining hall was producing, but also inspired and empowered to take greater action when they saw how changes to their process helped reduce the numbers so quickly.

Realising that sharing the meaning and significance of the data had a positive impact on the kitchen team, the plate waste data was also shared with Burgmann residents.

‘It was important for me to share this information in a positive way, as a good news story, to encourage Burgmann residents to continue making the effort,’ says Tanya. ‘The first reactions when we began sharing the plate data was genuine shock, and realisation that every little bit of food adds up.’

The Green Committee also recommended a simple-but-effective practice for residents and Chartwells staff to reduce waste at the source: Asking residents to request smaller serving sizes if they weren't too hungry.

'The two sources of food waste to consider are plate waste from residents and preparation waste from the kitchen, a division suggested by alumnus Michael Mobbs* (1971–1973). In an effort to minimise food waste at its source, we have encouraged students to request smaller serving sizes if they are not feeling too hungry; here we owe thanks to Tanya for also promoting a conscious, positive attitude to serving interactions among her kitchen staff,' says a rep from the Green Committee.

After trialling a manual plate-waste compost system, the Green Committee recommended to Burgmann leadership to engage with GoTerra, a Canberra-based food waste bioconversion company that works within Burgmann College's existing waste management infrastructure, to ensure that remaining plate waste was being collected and composted, diverting it from going to landfill.

Tanya and Burgmann's Green Committee are thrilled to report that GoTerra’s composting service, alongside the kitchen staff’s enthusiastic support and our residents making conscious choices around their food portions, is resulting in an overall trending decline in the total plate waste in the Burgmann College dining hall.

‘This is amazing’, says Tanya. ‘It highlights and emphasizes Burgmann’s continued commitment to making positive changes toward sustainability.’

The Green Committee has spearheaded numerous initiatives at Burgmann College to improve our sustainability. Read more about strides they have taken to improve residents' eco-conscious choices.

*Alumnus Michael Mobbs has been profiled numerous times for his amazing Sustainable House, a terrace home in inner-city Sydney that is fully off-grid and sustainable.

Rsz 1tanya austen stop food waste day 2024
Tanya Austen with the zero waste dishes the Chartwells team crafted for the event, plus additional educational signage.
Team service
Our friendly Chartwells team, ready to serve.
Leanpath Impact Update 1
From the Burgmann College April 2024 Leanpath Impact Update. Courtesy of Tanya Austen.
Leanpath Impact Update 2
From the Burgmann College April 2024 Leanpath Impact Update. Courtesy of Tanya Austen.
Leanpath Impact Update 3
From the Burgmann College April 2024 Leanpath Impact Update. Courtesy of Tanya Austen.
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