After high school, there is nothing more bittersweet than waving goodbye to your parents as they leave you to live on your own for the first time. For the most part, it feels like your world is opening up; without parents, you are your own guide. However, in some ways, your independence diminishes, particularly with where, how, and what you consume.

When on a meal plan, students are confined to the sustainability protocols and food offerings provided by dining halls and other on-campus facilities. It can be hard to go from composting every day at home to throwing a banana peel away in your dorm’s bathroom trash can. Some campuses around the South have implemented sustainability measures to their dining services that keep your conscious clean during all-you-can-eat extravaganzas. Below is a list of some of the most creative ways that Southern campuses have made their dining halls more sustainable.

1. The University of Georgia

They may be Georgia’s specialty, but the dining halls in Athens are serving up a lot more fresh produce than just peaches. UGA’s dining services have implemented many sustainability initiatives, all of which are outlined on their website. Some of them are basic, like trayless dining and composting and recycling services, while others are more innovative. For example, the dining hall has started sourcing some fresh produce from on-campus gardens. Since September 2019, UGA dining services created “Campus Grown special salads” that source ingredients from one of their campus gardens including their ​​Vertical Aeroponic Gardens. Some of the fresh produce offered in these special salads includes: swiss chard, dandelion greens, sorrel and peppers…pretty fancy for the dining hall. Speaking of gourmet dining hall food, UGA also has something called a “blended burger.” The blended burger contains 70% beef and 30% roasted mushrooms in order to provide a healthier and more sustainable hamburger. Luckily, the mushrooms complement ground beef, both texturally and flavorwise, so no worries about not getting your burger craving fulfilled. 

2. Clemson University

Clemson’s dining hall has all the classics, too: recycling and composting services, reusable to go containers, and a a five-step food planning process aimed at minimizing food waste:

Courtesy of the EPA.

As you can see, the second most preferred method for food recovery is to donate extra food to the hungry. Since the beginning of 2020, Clemson dining has donated over 44,000 pounds of surplus food to local food pantries. Clemson isn’t just helping their community by donating food though, they also source several ingredients from local farms and distributors. Here’s a map of all their local partners, sourced from their website:

Courtesy of Clemson Sustainability.

While French fries are always a safe dining hall bet, at Clemson, students can rest assured that their fries are going to taste good and be environmentally friendly too. Clemson dining services has methods for ensuring that none of their fryer oil goes to waste. According to their website, Clemoson dining services recycle their oil by filtering it multiple times to extend its lifespan. Purportedly, once the oil is no longer usable, it is collected and converted into diesel by a local research facility. 

3. University of Florida

University of Florida is making their sustainability initiatives particularly appealing by targeting a highly popular product among college students: coffee. First, they source all the coffee used in their dining halls from a local coffee roaster called Sweetwater Organic Coffee Co. Sweetwater is dedicated to “fair, direct, and transparent trading relationships with small-scale coffee farmers and their cooperatives throughout the world’s coffee lands.” They are also part of a cooperative dedicated to small-scale coffee growers around the world. With Sweetwater’s ethically sourced fresh coffee, UF is ensuring that their students are staying caffeinated with the highest quality coffee. UF doesn’t stop there though…they’ve also created a program called “B.Y.O.M.” or Bring Your Own Mug. B.Y.O.M. is a partnership between UF dining services and several on-campus restaurants including Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, P.O.D. Markets, Chomp & Go, and Rising Roll. The program offers a $0.25 discount on all coffee products to students who bring their own mugs or cups. B.Y.O.M is a win-win-win, students can get their caffeine fix, they get a discount, and they’re reducing their plastic consumption by using a reusable mug. 

4. University of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, like UGA, has an on-campus garden. The produce from this garden is donated to an on-campus food pantry, and students are allowed to pick produce for themselves from various satellite gardens. The initiative is made possible through Edible Campus, a program created by the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. UNC also hosts fall and spring farmers markets, where students can purchase locally grown produce, meats, and other products. Other sustainability implementations include daily vegan and vegetarian options, Meat “Less” Mondays, composting, tray-less dining, reusable to-go trays and cups, and locally sourced milk and breakfast meat.

5. University of Virginia

The University of Virginia has multiple programs to promote sustainability in its dining services. The Sustainable Food Collaborative was created in 2016 and has five goals: responsible food procurement, waste reduction, food security, raising awareness, and community collaboration. UVA serves a plant-forward dish every Friday in all of their dining halls, serves the blended burger, hosts market days featuring local vendors, and has compostable and reusable dining trays. The university is partnered with a rewards program called Cupanion, a mobile app that rewards users for using a reusable bottle instead of a plastic one at on-campus dining locations and stores. In the fall of 2019, the Green Dining Group was formed. This student-run group is open to all UVA students and hosts monthly meetings about sustainable eating. UVA has also hosted two food justice events. The first, held in October of 2018, was Our Evolving Food System: from Slavery to Sovereignty. The two-day event drew over 200 attendees and featured food prepared by Indigenous chefs with locally sourced ingredients. The second was a series of forums addressing ways in which the university could become more sustainable in its food supply chains.

6. University of Tennessee Knoxville

The University of Tennessee makes eating sustainably easy with their sustainability initiative “Make Orange Green.” The initiative features locally sourced food, recycling, composting, trayless dining, food donation, reusable condiment containers and dishware, fryer oil recycling, water bottle refill stations, green cleaning products, recycled paper, fair trade coffee, and bleach-free napkins. The university also has a program called The Mug Project, which offers discounts to students using their own reusable coffee cups at on-campus dining locations.


Courtesy of the University of Tennessee Knoxville Office of Sustainability.