Overall Rating Platinum
Overall Score 88.59
Liaison Richard Demerjian
Submission Date Aug. 11, 2021

STARS v2.2

University of California, Irvine
OP-8: Sustainable Dining

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Liz Mascarena
Marketing Manager
UCI Dining
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor host a farmers market, community supported agriculture (CSA) or fishery program, or urban agriculture project, or support such a program in the local community?:

A brief description of the farmers market, CSA or urban agriculture project:

The Anteatery, one of two residential dining locations on campus, currently houses UC Irvine’s first on-campus vertical garden. With 30 towers, this aeroponic garden can yield 10x the amount of food that traditional farming could provide in the same amount of space with 90% less water and 2-3x faster. Majority of the leafy greens, herbs, and other produce grown here are then distributed between both dining locations to be cooked and served to students.

Once per year, UCI Dining hosts an on campus farmer’s market for the annual UCI HR Wellness event, where we give away fresh produce from local suppliers to event attendees. We also conduct a cooking demonstration at the Annual Zot Health Fair utilizing organic ingredients and providing recipe cards for attendees to recreate the dish at home.

In addition, UC Irvine currently supports and manages community gardens located within some of its undergraduate and graduate residencies. UCI Dining collaborates with ASUCI’s Sustainability Project and Garden Commission to provide recycled coffee grounds for their “Ants in Your Plants” Garden located in Arroyo Vista Housing.

Used coffee grounds from our retail coffee shops are dried and packaged each week. In the first year, 210+ pounds of grounds were reused for DIY projects, face masks, as mulch for gardens, etc. The following year, demand increased by 108%. Should customers be in the market for coffee grounds, we also have packets of coffee grounds available at Zot n Go for customers to take free of charge to use at home.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor host a sustainability-themed food outlet on-site, either independently or in partnership with a contractor or retailer?:

A brief description of the sustainability-themed food outlet:

UCI Dining has recently opened, Planteatery, a dining location dedicated to providing fresh and plant-forward options to students on campus. The menu features made to order meals as well as a build-your-own salad station for full customization. Most dishes are vegan and vegetarian, and the produce is sourced as locally from within a 250 mile radius. We also have Fair Trade items available for purchase at the registers.

For additional information about Planteatery, view: https://uci.campusdish.com/LocationsAndMenus/StudentCenter/Planteatery

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor support disadvantaged businesses, social enterprises, and/or local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through its food and beverage purchasing?:

A brief description of the support for disadvantaged businesses, social enterprises, and/or local SMEs:

UCI Dining has since become a certified Fair Trade University as of May 2018 which requires 2 or more fair trade products to be sold at every proprietary location. By purchasing fair trade, as well as local, food and beverage products, we help to support the efforts of businesses seeking to provide fair wages for workers, farmers and fishermen. Zot-N-Go, our most popular on-campus convenience store, offers 10+ fair trade products alone (many of which fall under the: Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade International, Fair Trade USA, or Fair for Life certification).

Estimated percentage of total food and beverage expenditures on products from disadvantaged businesses, social enterprises, and/or local SMEs:

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor host low impact dining events or promote plant-forward options?:

A brief description of the low impact dining events and/or plant-forward options:

UCI Dining hosts a variety of events educating students about plant-based alternatives and plant-forward meals through food samplings, interactive games, and cooking demonstrations. 

UCI Dining promotes plant-based/forward meals by writing weekly recipes and tips on the “Planteater Plates” chalkboard (formally known as “Vegan Hacks”). Food identifiers can be found at residential dining stations everyday to educate students on the lower water and carbon impact created by plant-based menu items. (These same identifiers can also be found at many events with food provided by UCI Catering). In addition, special menus are created at each location to celebrate World Vegan Month in November and Earth Week in April.

UCI Dining is also partnering with local artisan bread and bakery providers. Currently, we get our premium bread products from a local bakery, Galasso’s, and work with other local specialty bakeries like Rossmoor and Shirley’s Bagels to provide additional high-quality items.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor have a vegan dining program that makes diverse, complete-protein vegan options available to every member of the campus community at every meal?:

A brief description of the vegan dining program:

Vegan meals and options are offered all across campus to make eating plant-based meals accessible for UC Irvine’s students, staff, and faculty. UCI has been graded with an A+ by peta2’s Vegan Report Card: https://www.peta2.com/feature/vegan-college-ranking/college/university-california-irvine/. Additional information on vegan options across campus can be found in UCI Dining’s Vegan and Vegetarian Guide.

Both residential dining locations are open to the public and each have a dedicated vegan station to ensure that all ingredients do not come in contact with any animal products. (Grill stations also have a dedicated grill for plant-based meat alternatives, including the recently introduced Beyond® Burger). Any vegan-friendly dishes at other stations are also indicated with a leaf icon on every digital menu display to help students navigate their options quickly and easily. Regarding beverage options, both dining halls feature a selection of plant-based milk alternatives. 

When not in residential dining, on-campus convenience stores and cafes offer quick, grab-and-go vegan meals. These are prepared in-house at our dining halls and distributed all across campus for additional convenience and reach. At proprietary locations, menus also include a “vegan leaf” indicator to guide campus members towards vegan options when ordering.

Farm-to-Fork themed meals are hosted at both dining halls increasing the sourcing of locally grown produce and providing additional educational materials about where the campus's locally grown produce (including items that are regularly available) come from. The dining halls also offer nondairy milks (soymilk, oatmilk and almond milk.)

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor inform customers about low impact food choices and sustainability practices through labelling and signage in dining halls?:

A brief description of the sustainability labelling and signage in dining halls:

Food identifiers help to educate students on low impact food choices, including the water and carbon impact of every menu item in our residential dining locations. This is to promote making sustainable, and also healthy, choices when dining. Moreover, labelling and signage can be found all around our dining locations indicating the healthy and sustainable options that we offer as well as educating students about food waste reduction and its impacts (events are hosted throughout the year to enforce these same messages).

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor participate in a competition or commitment program and/or use a food waste prevention system to track and improve its food management practices?:

A brief description of the food recovery competition or commitment program or food waste prevention system:

In order to continue mindfulness of the Food Recovery Hierarchy, UCI Dining focuses on source reduction by continuing to use Enable , a food waste prevention and tracking system for measuring pre-consumer food waste. During food prep, pre-consumer food trimmings are weighed inside a standardized container before being added to the campus’s composting system. The information is collected to determine whether or not any of the pre-consumer waste could have been reduced. If this is the case, the dining manager relays this message to the kitchen staff and teaches them different methods for minimizing the food waste. In addition to learning these methods, lessons on proper disposal of these food materials in each dining location's designated food composting bin are emphasized. 

When preparing the food, all kitchens exercise batch cooking which works to guide the crew on how much food to prepare for different meal periods of the day. This system helps ensure that the kitchen is not underproducing or overproducing the necessary amount of food, thereby reducing any pre-consumer (and post-consumer) food waste.

Has the institution or its primary dining services contractor implemented trayless dining (in which trays are removed from or not available in dining halls) and/or modified menus/portions to reduce post-consumer food waste?:

A brief description of the trayless dining or modified menu/portion program:

Trays have been removed from both residential dining locations to assist in further reducing the possibility of food waste. During service, food is served based on the recommended portion size of the location’s nutrition guide. Students are recommended and encouraged to communicate with the dining staff to receive smaller portions for sampling.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor donate food that would otherwise go to waste to feed people?:

A brief description of the food donation program:

UCI also partners and donates excess produce and beverages to the Fresh Basic Needs Hub. FRESH offers emergency food and toiletries, connects students to critical on and off-campus resources, and provides educational opportunities for students to take personal responsibility for their wellness and the well-being of their communities. More about FRESH: https://basicneeds.uci.edu/

UCI Dining has continued to exercise mindfulness of the Food Recovery Hierarchy, especially in regard to “reduction at the source”. This has led to positive results of estimating the right amount of food needed to be served at different hours of the day (recognizing peak hours and the absence of students during popular university events), thereby creating a minimal amount of food waste. Since 2017, our food donations have since declined due to bettering our source reduction (minimizing unnecessary inventory numbers and practicing batch cooking).

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor divert food materials from the landfill, incinerator or sewer for animal feed or industrial uses?:

A brief description of the food materials diversion program:

UCI Dining works with a third-party company to assist in the process of recycling fryer oil all across campus. Food waste is sent to our local waste management facility which houses an anaerobic digester. Both frying oil and food waste are then converted for industrial use. In April 2021, in partnership with UCI Facilities Management, we altered how we dispose of our waste by sending food scraps towards the feeding of animals rather than composting our food waste at both dining halls. This will enable us to move up two tiers within the Environmental Protection Agency’s food recovery hierarchy of disposals.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor have a pre-consumer composting program?:

A brief description of the pre-consumer composting program:

All campus dining locations (residential dining and on-campus restaurants) have a pre-consumer composting program. Every location has a designated food collection bin where pre-consumer food waste is placed after being weighed and recorded for data. In both of our dining halls’ dishwashing rooms, we use Salvajor Collectors, which takes the water from the dish return conveyor system and recirculates it at a rate of 30 to 70 gallons per minute resulting in the savings of thousands of gallons of water each year. Rather than grinding food waste or collecting every scrap of garbage in a trash receptacle, the Salvajor Collectors wash soluble food waste harmlessly through the sewer while holding fibrous and non-soluble food waste in the scrap basket allowing us to compost every scrap of food.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor have a post-consumer composting program?:

A brief description of the post-consumer composting program:

For the post-consumer program, a system of three bins is located at every dining facility, separating compost, recycling, and landfill. This three bin system is located both outside and inside every dining facility to allow for accessibility. In front of each bin are images that are used as a guide for proper post-consumer sorting. UCI Dining has worked with the campus’s waste management department to understand what can be properly composted in their system (e.g. food materials, soiled paper materials). All images are custom to each location to further provide the consumer a more streamlined approach to sorting. 

In the Fall of 2019, residential dining locations have implemented post-consumer food composting bins near the location’s dish drop. Here, students are asked to scrape their plates clean of any excess food on their plate. This helps to mimic one of UCI Dining’s quarterly events, “Love Your Food, Don't Waste It." This event seeks to remind the campus community about the environmental impact of food waste. Green Captains are student volunteers who help during these events to educate students on reducing portion size, and also celebrating students who arrive with clean plates. Students are also given the opportunity to communicate about dishes that did not meet their satisfaction. As a result, chefs can look into the bins to see if a specific dish is being thrown out in order to alter the recipe for the next batch of students.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor utilize reusable service ware for “dine in” meals?:

A brief description of the reusable service ware program:

All residential dining locations utilize reusable dining ware for “dine in” meals (plates, bowls, utensils, and cups) in order to reduce waste.

Additionally, UCI Dining hosts a number of events to give away reusable dining ware (1000 chopstick and knife/spork hybrid, 1000 knife/fork/spoon travel kit, 1000 bamboo utensil kits, 1000 telescoping stainless steel straws, 2000 reusable water bottles) that can be used for “dine in” purposes.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor provide reusable and/or third party certified compostable containers and service ware for “to-go” meals (in conjunction with an on-site composting program)?:

A brief description of the compostable containers and service ware:

Reusable to-go containers and cups can be purchased and used at either one of our two residential dining locations. Students are allowed to drop off these containers and cups at the dining halls so that any leftover food can be composted correctly. Students can then exchange their unclean container/cup for a clean one or receive a “rain check card” for when they want to take their meal “to-go” at another time. With 3,500+ students having a reusable to-go container and cup, UCI Dining has eliminated 200,000 disposable containers from the dining halls every year. 

For all of our other on-campus restaurants, to-go containers are compostable and/or made of recycled materials.

Does the institution or its primary dining services contractor offer discounts or other incentives to customers who use reusable containers instead of disposable or compostable containers in “to-go” food service operations?:

A brief description of the reusable container discount or incentives program:

UCI Dining gives away reusable water bottles at events as promotional material to encourage the use at retail locations. Students and staff receive discounts of 50 cents on all coffee and fountain drink orders for customers that bring in a reusable cup, mug, or bottle. This discount is applicable at all locations except for Starbucks, where students can receive a 10 cent discount off of their drink when they use a reusable container. A reusable water bottle is required to receive the discount, it serves as a reminder and incentive to reduce waste by bringing a reusable container for beverages.

A brief description of other sustainability-related initiatives not covered above:

- UCI Dining has added 200 new plant-forward menu items making 30% of our options vegan- or vegetarian-friendly

- Paper straws and water cups are available upon request to further reduce waste at all of our on-campus restaurants

- On-campus convenience stores have completely removed plastic bag options to reduce single-use plastic

Website URL where information about the sustainable dining programs is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

To learn more details about UCI's sustainable dining programs and initiatives, please see our "Sustainable Dining at UCI" guidebook: https://uci.campusdish.com/Sustainability/WhatWeAreDoing.aspx

One of UCI's greatest sustainable dining accomplishments was receiving the 2019 NACUFS Grand Prize for Sustainability:

- National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) is composed of members from higher education institutions from across the United States, Canada and abroad, and industry leaders who support and promote excellence in collegiate dining.

- Colleges and universities applying for this award must submit their best sustainability dining programs and initiatives on their campuses. UCI Dining highlighted programs such as zero waste, sustainable food purchases, reusable to go, One Mile Meals vertical garden, Be a Planteater, skip the straw, addressing food insecurity, green captains program and hosting over 50 sustainable dining events a year.

- In addition to the 2019 Grand Prize, UCI Dining also received two Sustainability awards at the NACUFS conference, including a Gold Award for Outreach and Education and a Silver Award for Waste Management.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.