Zero-Waste Research: Final Report

My summer research, supervised by Dr. DuPuis, was focused on the state of food waste management in urban and suburban areas. The goal is to identify the barriers to properly managing food waste and achieving zero-waste goals. We identified the main players in food waste collection, food waste recycling (composting), and some sources of food waste production.  Additionally, we will be using the Frank Geels’ Multi-Level Perspectives model to create a cohesive flow of information between the two entities, hopefully for each to inform the other of their best practices produce ideal food waste management practices

In conducting the interviews I had two approaches. The first approach was to go to community gardens on the weekends and find someone who worked there. The gardeners and volunteers at community gardens were always eager to sit down and talk about their projects, even show me around their facilities. However, this approach only works with the nature of the community garden; a generally easy going environment that is mostly community based. In order to get interviews with catering companies or more large scale projects I had to take a more formal approach. For these organizations, I had to first email and then schedule phone interviews.

Something that helped me a lot in the process of organizing my interviews objectives was creating a matrix in Excel. This matrix split up the different categories of interviewees under which I could list potential organizations and check off as I went through. Those categories included “Farms/Gardens That Compost”, “Farms/Gardens That Don’t Compost”, “Farmers Markets Collecting Food Scraps”, “Farmers Markets NOT Collecting Food Scraps”, “Municipal Contacts” and “Others”. I also created an option to list the contact email or number for easy reference. I would suggest this method to anyone dealing with a large number of contacts spanning several different categories.

As of now, I have conducted interviews with 6 organizations including Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Hilltop Hanover, Tompkins Square Farmers Market, Earth Matter Governor’s Island, La Plaza Cultural Community Garden, and OxVerte Catering Company. These 6 interviewees span most of the categories I intend to cover, so I feel as though I already have successful coverage of my bases. I will be working to at least double this number of interviewees before I can move onto my next steps.

What I really appreciate the most about this work is that it has that ability to change shape and flex. With social research, work needs to be able to shift as you learn more about the people that you’re talking to. I’ve found that through these interviews, the farmers have actually guided me in the direction of the questions that I should be trying to answer.Overall, I have enjoyed the research process very much. Food waste management is a topic that is incredibly interesting to me, so the question that I’m asking is something I’m genuinely curious about. I understand my own barriers in my experience with being responsible about my food waste but with each interview I learn more and more about the challenges that are faced across the board. 

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