Food: Waste Less and Enjoy! It's Good for All of Us
Did you know that between 30% and 40% of food in the U.S. goes uneaten each year?i ii Taking only what you will eat in appropriate portion sizes to promote health and well-being is an opportunity to serve as a leader in your classroom and your community in tackling food waste. This attention to reducing food waste benefits the environment because less waste is going into landfills. It also helps us to better appreciate the resources that go into getting food onto your plate,iii all while making a positive difference in the lives of people,iv animalsv and the environment.vi vii
Credit: Environmental Protection Agency
Some food waste does come from schools, of course. That said, a 2014 study indicates that consumption of some school-lunch components among urban, low-income elementary and middle school students has increased since the new school meal standards were introduced in 2012.viii Food waste remains a problem, however. So what can you do to help? For starters, implementing a food-waste reduction plan in your school will help raise awareness of this issue and allow you to work with the nutrition staff and administration to make meals and snacks less wasteful and more exciting.
iU.S. Food Waste Challenge: Frequently Asked Questions. USDA, Office of the Chief Economist. Accessed February 26, 2018.
iiHall, K. D., Guo, J., Dore, M., & Chow, C. C., The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. 2009. PLoS ONE, 4(11): e7940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007940. Accessed February 26, 2018.
iiiGunders, D. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. 2012. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed February 26, 2018.
vReduce Wasted Food by Feeding Animals. 2016. EPA Sustainable Management of Food. Accessed February 26, 2018.
viA Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste by 20 Percent. 2016. ReFED. Accessed February 26, 2018
vii Food Recovery Hierarchy. 2017. EPA Sustainable Management of Food. Accessed February 26, 2018.
viiiCohen, J. F., Richardson, S., et al., Impact of the new U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal standards on food selection, consumption, and waste [Abstract]. 2014, April. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46(4): 388–94. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Huddle up with your principal and school nutrition staff to find out where your food comes from, including the resources that go into making it and where your waste ends up. The bottom line: Food is too good to waste. Waste often means it goes to a landfill, where it contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are bad for the planet.xi
Students! Here are some things you can do to get things going!
- Considering composting? Include the janitorial staff and contact your county agricultural extension office to ask about local farmers who would be willing to accept food scrap donations.
- Recruit team members to join a Food Waste Reduction Committee that includes your principal, school nutrition staff and students, as well as parent and teacher volunteers. Meet to discuss the different strategies your school can try and who you might need to get permissions from for each strategy.
Like any game that’s worth winning, you are bound to run into challenges. That's why the huddle is so important. You want the people on your team to understand that this is a game in which everyone wins.
xi Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Overview of Greenhouse Gases. 2015. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed February 16, 2018.
Collaborate with your Food Waste Reduction Committee to identify strategies that will work best in your school. Set goals for each strategy — even small successes are worth celebrating!
Consider polling students about what activities they would be most likely to volunteer to help with — composting, working with local food pantries, collecting food for a school pantry or creating flyers.
After you’ve involved the student body and everyone is on board to reduce food waste at your school, the first step toward success is to identify opportunities to waste less. By assessing waste during meals, you will have set a baseline — or starting point — to begin reducing waste!
Start small — plan a “Trashless Tuesday” or “Waste-Free Wednesday” to introduce students to the environmental benefits of reducing food waste. Consider polling students to find out why they throw away food. Do they not like it? Out of time? Understanding why food is wasted will help you choose the right strategies to make your Play a success!
Tools for Success
- Use this Guide for Conducting Waste Audits from the World Wildlife Fund. You can also use the supplies below to conduct polling on new foods and promotions for food waste reduction:Food survey indicators (red or green cards to put in a bag; thumbs up or down, etc.)
- Supplies for taste tests
- Supplies to create colorful posters and flyers promoting the Play: “Waste Less — Enjoy More”
Launch an awareness campaign to talk about the importance of reducing food waste and share details on why it is important for the environment. Continually remind everyone that nutrition isn’t nutrition unless it gets eaten! Keep your classmates up to date and announce successes during morning announcements. Make a poster that displays your goals and mark them off as each is completed so the entire student body is aware of the Play’s accomplishments.
Plan a series of slide shows and videos that can be run on-screen in the cafeteria. Here are some sample videos you can use:
- Jack Johnson’s Sustainable America
- Vanguard Renewables — Jordan Dairy Farm (reducing food waste and helping dairy farms)
- The Extraordinary Life & Times of Strawberry
You can also use the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hierarchy of Food Recovery and resources available through Further with Food’s Understand the Issue collection. Visit FurtherwithFood.org for more videos.
Create flyers and posters highlighting your program and the important role students can play in reducing food waste. Include the benefits of feeding more people, animals and land with food that would have otherwise been wasted and likely contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Be sure to mention how addressing food waste reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves resources used in producing food. Use the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to educate classmates, staff and parents on the importance of different strategies and how they should be prioritized.
Send information home to parents or attend a PTA or PTO meeting to explain your Play. Remember to mention the cost, location, benefits and options so parents or family members can spread the word when they go home. Consider asking parents to join your Food Waste Reduction Committee.
Plan an activity and set up a test run. Now that you know how much food is wasted at your school, you can start implementing strategies to waste less, nourish more, help the environment and enjoy more! Pilot a strategy for one month and document progress each week. After the first month, review the overall progress and identify areas for improvement — build on your successes until you are meeting your goals on a regular basis! If your first strategy has been successful, add another to make your Play as impactful as possible.
Build student leadership opportunities. As much as possible, get students involved in planning and running your programs. Look into the possibility of students earning service learning hours. Students should lead the Food Waste Reduction Committee and consider creating subcommittees for different reduction, recovery and recycling strategies. Put students in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable life lessons on how to plan and implement programs, and they’ll feel great about helping people, animals and the environment!
Avoiding food waste before it happens (reduction) conserves resources and can help schools save money on food purchasing and disposal costs.
- Ensure weekly menus are clearly posted in classrooms and lunchrooms to help students decide what to eat each day.
- Remind students of the next day’s menu choices during afternoon announcements.
- Work with nutrition staff to make meal options more appealing by providing student feedback on menus and recipes as well as how to display food to encourage healthy choices and proper portion control. As with other Plays, holding taste tests is always a good way to find out what students like!
- Talk to your principal and school nutrition staff about additional strategies to help reduce waste before it starts — this could be as simple as serving sliced fruits or implementing Offer Versus Serve.
Food recovery or rescue is the organized collection and donation of excess food to those in need.
- Set up a sharing table where students can give or take individual items that would otherwise be thrown out. (Note: Be sure to check with your school nutrition professionals about any regulations that should be followed.)
- Establish a list of food items that are safe to share — unopened milk stored at the right temperature, packaged foods and fruit with peels. (Again, be sure you work with nutrition professionals in your school so you are following all safety regulations.)
- Work with student volunteers to monitor the table and ensure only approved items are exchanged.
- Work with your school nutrition team to follow these USDA safety requirements and other best practices, including making sure you have coolers or ice buckets if you are going to include unopened milk or other perishable items that need to stay cold on your sharing table.
- Each week, total up the weight of rescued food and enter it into this food recovery calculator to see your impact!
Recycling food that cannot be donated is a wonderful way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil health. Your food contains energy and nutrients that are useful not only for feeding people but also for feeding animals and plants. By recycling uneaten food, you can preserve the resources that would otherwise be wasted and put them to their next best use. Food scraps can be used to feed cows, pigs and other livestock or even to sustainably generate electricity.xiii Composting food scraps and inedible foods or breaking them down to create a nutrient-dense plant food can be done in your school’s garden, at a community garden, at a commercial composting facility and even indoors!
- You’ll need separate collection bins, compostable bin liners and gloves.
- All bins should be clearly labeled with images and staffed by a volunteer.
- Collect discarded fruits and veggies to feed plants in your school’s garden or find a community garden that could benefit.
- Ask your science teachers about different methods of composting, such as vermicomposting.
- Ask your County Agricultural Extension Office to connect you with local farmers who would be willing to accept food scraps — either for compost or animal feed.
- Also consider developing partnerships with your local 4-H club or nearest Future Farmers of America chapter.
xiii Gunders D. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. 2012. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed February 21, 2017.
Spread the Word
Credit: Sustainable America
Have students create posters about your program and highlight creative ways to reuse food. Distribute flyers in classrooms and advertise your Play during morning announcements. Get the word out on your school's website or blog or in your school's newsletter or student newspaper!
Involve the community. Attend a meeting of your school's PTA or PTO and provide information on how the program is good for students and the community. Keep them updated on the goals and successes of the program.
Register your school to participate in the USDA’s U.S. Food Waste Challenge and encourage other schools in your district to do the same.
Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @FUTP60) and using #FuelGreatness!
Think long term. Create a student task force to notify local businesses about what you are doing. Don’t forget to thank everyone involved and provide them with regular updates on your accomplishments. Reengage businesses at the end of each school year and keep an eye out for new ones you can recruit to help you with next year’s plans! Review this Food Waste: Long-Term Strategies document for ideas on how to keep building.
Invite agents from your local county agricultural extension office or public health agency to visit the school and talk about the importance of reducing food waste. Ask local farmers to come as well and speak about the benefits of compost and soil health and what they do on their own farms to reduce food waste.
Set up some friendly competitions between classes, grades or even subject areas (e.g., the science department vs. social studies). Always think about ways to include nearby schools in each of your challenges.
- Host a school-wide competition to select fun, creative promotional campaigns for lunchroom display.
- Organize a poster contest to raise awareness about wasted food. Winning submissions can be posted around the school, and copies can be sent home to share with parents or hung at local businesses.
- Launch a challenge between different lunch periods to see who can reduce the most food waste!
- Consider planning a food recovery challenge that involves multiple schools in your district like this one in Long Island.
- Measure your waste — even for just one day — of everything you throw away.
- Involve everyone in your household when planning meals — including school lunches — and shop accordingly.
- Take your leftovers home with you when you dine out. If you don’t think you’ll eat them in time, incorporate them into other meals.
- Ask for half portions or shared plates when dining out.
- Encourage your grocer and local restaurants to buy local food and “ugly produce.” Hold taste tests for kids to test the difference between what they usually see and the “ugly” versions. They’ll get a chance to both see that the two taste the same, while having an opportunity to try things they otherwise might not.
- Talk to your parents, teachers, friends and other school adults about food waste and share strategies that you’ve tried, either at home or at school.
Help Build the Whole Fuel Up to Play 60 Community
Encourage students to log on to their Dashboard and report activity to achieve Level Three (30,000 Points) and be named a Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador! Having ambassadors at your school might help get more students involved!
Just getting started? Here is something you can do without jumping right into the full Play. Let this idea get you warmed up so you’re ready to tackle the full Play!
Create a Food Waste Reduction Committee to measure how much food is being wasted in your school. A visual assessment - of all, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, or no food wasted - from each student's meal will give you an idea of how much food is being thrown out.
Share this video with your student body showing the importance of reducing food waste in schools and how elementary students in Hawaii have taken charge in addressing food waste. Ask your classmates why reducing food waste matters to them.
Funding and Outfitting Your Play
What might help?
- Educational posters and flyers
- Waste tracking logs
- Camera for photo-documenting your success
- Food recovery and rescue supplies
- Boxes, bags and other containers for packaging and transporting food
- Access to a vehicle for drop-offs
- Access to a fridge and freezer for perishable items
- Insulated bags for cooler items
- Composting supplies
- Compost collection bins
- Food scrap buckets for measurement
- Compostable trash bags
- Heavy duty or kitchen-grade scale
- Clear, colorful signage and bin labels
- Red wriggler worms (for vermicomposting or school garden composting)
If you plan to start a school garden funding can be found using the following resources:Note: It’s a great idea to consult with your school’s nutrition team when applying for a grant!