There’s a problem in the United States that isn’t just an elephant in the room, but more like 6.4 million elephants in the room. That is the equivalent in weight — more than 38 million tons — of food that is lost or wasted in the country every year.

While the effects of food waste on the planet run deep, exhausting energy and resources such as water, it also brings serious economic ramifications. For example, the average family of four loses about $1,600 from food that goes uneaten and gets thrown out every year. There is hope, however, as Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, President of Unity College and Jennifer deHart, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unity College, in Unity, Maine, will detail when they present at the South Sound Sustainability Expo on April 14 in Tacoma, Washington.

“Sustainability is at the center of our education, as well as our everyday lives here at Unity College. Last year, our Dining Services team was honored by the National Association of College and University Food Services in part for the work they’ve done developing innovative ways to reduce food waste,” said Dr. Khoury. “Getting the opportunity to visit Tacoma, meet with leaders in sustainability, and swap strategies with them, is exactly what we should be doing as America’s Environmental College.”

One of the ways Unity College is reducing food waste on campus is by working with the College’s McKay Farm and Research Center in Thorndike, Maine, using produce from the farm, and also repurposing anything that isn’t selling well. Herbs that have wilted can be turned into salt, which deHart will give out to attendees at the presentation.

“Who hasn’t bought a bunch of beautiful looking herbs in the grocery store, and then four weeks later they’re all brown? Don’t throw them out. They can still be used in a number of ways,” said deHart. “We’re building relationships with area farms so that we get drops and other forms of food that would otherwise be discarded. In our commercial kitchen, we can turn that food into ketchup or relish, or make some kind of sauces out of it.”

Competitions and challenges within communities, deHart says, can encourage residents to be more mindful of food waste and help significantly reduce it. During the presentation, she will share recipes and tips with those in attendance so they can make simple changes that will collectively make a big difference.

“It’s not just inspirational and good information on Unity College’s efforts, it’s also information you can really take home and use,” deHart added. “We’re really stoked.”

Presented by the City of Tacoma’s Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability, the South Sound Sustainability Expo is a free community event celebrating sustainability. It offers community members a chance to connect with organizations and businesses to gain insight on sustainable products, renewable energy, habitat restoration, and more. Families can enjoy live storytelling and music, and create sustainable arts and crafts.

Unity College staff, including deHart and Dr. Khoury, will be on hand throughout the event and at the reception to answer questions about America’s Environmental College, and give attendees insight into the experiential education and opportunities available for students at Unity College.