UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Office of Housing and Food Services (HFS) is making strides toward a more sustainable Penn State community, including the new position of sustainability coordinator, now held by alumna Anna Sostarecz.
Sostarecz graduated from Penn State in 2017 with a degree in environmental resource management. After spending a few months serving as an AmeriCorps member, she was hired by HFS in January of 2019.
“The position came about because HFS wanted to commit more of an effort towards sustainability,” Sostarecz said.
She hit the ground running, with three major sustainability-focused plans already in action.
The first is a partnership with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Leftover food waste from the HUB-Robeson Center and the Pattee-Paterno Library’s Starbucks is collected by the food bank and redistributed to the community. Since January, 8,000 pounds of food have been donated. Plans are in the works for this process to soon expand to the residential dining halls on campus, and include food banks in both Altoona and Mont Alto.
The second plan is to curb the use of plastic in dining halls and increase the use of Green2Go containers, reusable takeout containers to replace the use of plastic foam. Currently, only 16% of to-go meals are carried out in Green2Go containers.
“I’d like that to be 100%,” said Sostarecz.
Sostarecz’s third and possibly most involved plan for a more sustainable HFS is called LeanPath. LeanPath is a way for both those preparing food and those consuming it to keep track of their food waste. According to the Sustainability Institute, food waste represents the largest proportion of Penn State’s waste stream. LeanPath uses scales to track food waste weight, food item, source station, and loss reason.
LeanPath, a worldwide program, piloted at Penn State in the South Food District in January 2019. As of May 6, food waste had been reduced by 31.48% and about 14 tons of food waste had been avoided.
“Just through observation and awareness, it has had really great results,” Sostarecz said.
She is hopeful to have all residential dining on board with LeanPath by spring of 2020, and then hopes to start introducing it to the Commonwealth Campuses as well.
Sostarecz believes that reducing food waste is a huge and necessary step to becoming more sustainable.
“I think food in particular is the most universal way to connect people with the planet. Everyone has to eat, and most people enjoy food and use food as a mechanism to bring other humans together,” she said. “Shifting our food system is the most efficient way for me personally to have an effect on the environment.”