The most prominent source of waste at school is unwanted food. Studies show anywhere from 25 percent or more of a school’s waste stream is food. Schools waste more than $1.2 billion of food every year. It is important to note that schools are but one part of a food supply system that throws away about $218 billion worth of uneaten food every year.
The cafeteria is another classroom. Students see the food waste. Valuing food and managing it properly is a life-long lesson.
Quick tips to prevent & reduce food waste in K-12 schools:
- Download: Reducing Food Waste - A Guide for South Carolina Schools
- Measure it. Conduct a food waste audit in your school, then develop and implement appropriate reduction strategies. Have students help. Guide to Conducting Student Food Waste Audits
- Participate in Smarter Lunchrooms. Smarter Lunchrooms is a nationwide movement encouraging students to select and eat the healthiest food. When kids are taught to eat more fruits and vegetables, it leads to healthier eating and less food waste.
- Use Offer versus Serve (OVS). The USDA recommends the OVS strategy giving students the flexibility to make healthy choices and allowing them to decline some of the food offered while assuring the meal is still reimbursable.
- Set up a Share Table. Students place specific food and beverage items that they choose not to consume on a designated table or cart. This provides an opportunity for other students to take the items at no cost. This strategy, encouraged by the USDA, helps feed hungry children and prevent food waste.
- Donate. No matter how many waste reduction practices are in place, there will still be uneaten food. Since 2012, the USDA has encouraged food directors to redistribute unopened milk, bags of carrots, whole fruit and other items to community members—often within the school –in need.
- Compost. Set up a small composting program or school-wide program with an outside vendor. Composting Guide for Schools
Quick tips to prevent & reduce food waste in colleges/universities:
- Measure it. Talk with your food service vendor. Conduct a food waste audit or "weigh the waste" event. Have students help develop and implement appropriate reduction strategies in coordination with food services.
- Reduce plate waste. Working with your food service vendor shift to trayless dining, smaller plates and reusable take-out containers.
- Donate. Start a volunteer operated food pantry for students - shelf stable items are a good starting point. Donate other items to a local food bank or shelter. Is it legal for a college/university to donate food? YES!
- Compost. Contract with a food waste vendor, work with facilities/sustainability staff to start an on-site program or develop a class project with the help of professors.
Benefits for all:
- Feeding people, not landfills.
- Learning opportunities and life-long lessons for students.
- Potential cost savings.
- Provide a quality product from composting for your school garden.