Document Type

Senior Honors Project

Publication Date



In universities across the United States, about 3.6 million tons of food is wasted annually. Food waste accounts for the largest landfill deposit and an average annual loss of $100 billion. Some food waste research has been conducted in university settings, yet additional work is necessary to understand food waste perceptions and behaviors of young adults. Among this population, text messaging is the most common form of mobile communication and an emerging means of education. The primary aim of this pilot study was to determine university students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors about food waste. The secondary aim was to evaluate the impact of a text message based educational intervention on individual food waste. The survey instrument was developed in Qualtrics using validated questions identified in the literature and additional study specific questions regarding participant food waste knowledge and behaviors. A convenience sample of female university students living on campus with meal plans (n=55) was recruited during fall 2014. At baseline (October 2014) and post intervention (December 2014) participants completed an online survey and individual plate waste was measured by research staff in an al-la-carte cafeteria setting. Educational text messages were disseminated to participants using cell phone technology over a 4-week period and focused on four food waste themes identified from the baseline survey results: environmental effects, use-by-dates on food, impact of one person, and make a change. Data will be analyzed to measure the effectiveness of the educational intervention by assessing the pre/post plate waste differences and changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards food waste. Participants (mean age= 19 years) were primarily white (63.4%), in their first year at the university (56%) and had either the largest or second largest meal plan offered (87.5%). Mean baseline food waste was 17.9 g (n=39). Baseline data suggest that participants often keep leftovers (80.5%) and follow useby dates on food packages (70.7%). Environmental sustainability is very important to participants (70.7%) yet only 51.2% reported an excellent understanding of environmental sustainability. Post intervention data collection is in progress. To our knowledge, this novel nutrition education approach targeting food waste knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of young adults has not been utilized previously. These data will guide development of future research with a larger, more diverse sample and aid in implementing effective waste-reduction strategies in university settings.