Schools and food waste

By: Marcus Lund

School lunch sometimes sucks. It occasionally either tastes gross, the texture is just off, or there’s something else wrong with the meal. And let’s be real, nobody eats those green beans. So, inevitably, something gets thrown away.

According to a new study from the World Wildlife Foundation, U.S. schools waste 530,000 tons of food yearly, costing around $1.7 billion. This much food in weight is equivalent to 76,000 school buses. That’s a massive problem.

Additionally, the U.S. is much worse at controlling its school food-waste than other developed countries. According to a cafeteria audit from Penn State, food waste from countries like Sweden, Italy, and Spain ranged from an average of 23%-30% of the food served, whereas the U.S. ‘s ranged from 30%-50% of the food served. This means that out of the food that we receive, most students throw away at least a third.

So, how do we combat this problem?

People around the nation have been trying different methods. The Boulder Valley School District in Colorado is one of nine participants in a pilot program launched in 2019, where students go through different measures to decrease their waste. Signs around the cafeteria remind students not to take more than they can eat, and classes are held with farmers to connect students to the food that they throw away.

Food waste audits also create noticeable impacts on waste amounts, with one held by WWF decreasing food waste by 3%, which could lead to $52 million in cost cuts if implemented around the nation.

Before COVID, The Burlington School District in Vermont allowed cartons of milk and other untouched items to be placed on share tables. After school, much of that food is taken home by students or eaten as an after school snack.

Across the nation, many different methods have been used to lessen the amount of wasted food. How will Highland Park step up?

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