Rethinking Food Waste on Campus

Written by Jes Watts

This semester I have been working for the Operations Department at Saint Edward’s University as the Grub Tubs Project Manager. Grub Tubs is the new food waste system on campus, although I prefer to call it a food repurposing system. The company aims to improve the City of Austin’s waste cycle while also supporting local family farms. This is done by collecting food waste from institutions (like St Edward’s) and transforming it into sustainable animal feed. The edible waste is collected then fed to black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) larvae. After about 48 hours, the larvae grow into mature, nutrient-rich grubs which are then fed to chickens and pigs on local farms.

Farm to Table to Farm (source Grub Tubs)


Before July 2019, the food waste on campus was sent to a composting facility. Unfortunately, with the previous system any contamination resulted in rejection of the entire batch. Because composting systems are not standardized, most people find food waste stations (the recycle, landfill, compost bins) frustrating to use. There are different rules and multiple signs depending on where you are. Clearing your lunch tray should not be a challenging part of your day. College is hard enough! The purpose of my internship is to create a standardized system that maximizes participation while minimizing contamination and customer effort. With the new Grub Tubs system the rules are simple: ALL FOOD. ONLY FOOD.

My work tasks vary from day to day, and have included responding to email inquiries, creating educational materials about the program, conducting on campus outreach, making Grub Tubs available at campus events, and creating a pilot program for expansion into faculty and staff offices. I have been surprised by the interest in our program. Several offices have even requested tubs for their staff break rooms, and events.

taking a Grub Tub to OIT (photo by Cristina Bordin)

Our team is small – just me and my service dog, Matey. While this internship allows for autonomy, I do have fortnightly meetings with my supervisor, Jim Morris, AVP of Operations. I also interact regularly with Bon Appétit staff to ensure we implement this new system in the most efficient manner. We are currently streamlining the food waste stations at the Hunt and Ragsdale dining facilities.

Matey on her way to a Grub Tubs meeting with Jim Morris


I have enjoyed being a part of this effort to bring sustainable changes to campus. Most importantly, this internship is directly related to my academic interests. I am currently enrolled in Dr. Peter Beck’s Research Experience in Environmental Science and Policy, in which students are required to undertake an independent research project. My research partner, Molly Williams, and I have begun preliminary research into the food waste behaviours on campus. College campuses dispose of millions of pounds of food waste every year, and that uneaten food ends up in landfills. Industrial landfills are some of the largest emitters of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. As an Environmental Science and Policy major, I am particularly intrigued by the innovative solutions provided by companies like Grub Tubs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *