Creative Solutions to Ending School Meals Waste

Creative Solutions to Ending School Meals Waste

Although Schools aren’t the worst contributors to food waste, they are a key battleground in the fight to educate people as to how much food is wasted annually in the Western hemisphere. A school in the US is taking the lead in teaching its students some creative solutions to food waste that they hope they’ll take with them into adulthood.

At Chesterbrook Elementary School in McClean, VA, every single student learns ways to separate waste into categories like recyclables, food to be donated, upcycling bins, and general waste. The school’s Eco Team, run by sixth graders (11-12 years old), guarantees their fellow students are placing waste into the correct bin. The team then collects, weighs, categorizes, and places the food to become donated into separate refrigerators, provided by the Meals Bus, a non-profit organization that works with schools to donate food that would otherwise visit waste.

At the end with the week, PTA members or community volunteers provide meals towards the neighbourhood meals pantry. In the 2013-2014 academic year, the 12 schools that contribute to the Meals Bus provided over 6 metric tons of food to their nearby food pantries. These donations included  peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas and apples, yogurt, string cheese, containers of apple sauce and sliced peaches, granola bars, and cartons of milk. The milk is especially welcome by meals pantries considering the fact that they lack other reputable sources for dairy items.

“I’ve taken countless cartons of milk to pantries over the past two years and mothers have taken the milk out of the bags before I have put them into the pantry refrigerator and opened them there on the spot and given them to their children.  Milk is expensive.” says Kathleen Weil, founder of the Food Bus.

Meals waste and recovery can also be incorporated into science lesson plans. But there are actually other important takeaways at the same time according to Weil, “the children in the elementary schools are not only learning how to not throw away their food and add it to the national waste stream, but they’re learning that it can be used by someone who is hungry.  They are getting a little spark of community service now that may have an impact in their life and the lives of the many people around them when they are adults.”

Often, six to eight months are required to set up a meals recovery plan by way of Food Bus. The course of action requires arranging for necessary equipment, setting up a volunteer system and creating a relationship with a local meals pantry. It also involves an assessment of county rules and regulations on donations.

In the meantime, schools can curb plate waste with uncomplicated changes to school rules, specially in the cafeteria environment. Research has found that serving lunch right after recess can minimize plate waste by as much as 30 %. Within the cafeteria, techniques like naming vegetables (i.e. “creamy corn”) can increase its choice by 40 to 70 %. Another study, in the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, discovered that introducing a “healthy options only” convenience line improved consumption of those nutritious items by 35 %.

There are plenty of strategies to lower, recycle, and recover meals waste in school cafeterias. By implementing these tips, schools play a crucial part in scaling back the amount of meals taking up valuable landfill space. Extra importantly, if a school makes use of meals waste as a understanding chance, it instils better habits in our young people and produces far more civic-minded, community-conscious adults.

As Anne Rosenbaum, Science Specialist at Haycock Elementary School in Virginia says, “there are some kids who really have an affinity for the food donation.  They want to go to the food pantry to see how it works.  Their parents call in to help volunteer because the kids are so interested.  We laugh because our Eco Team and Eco Patrols get blue rubber gloves so that if they find people who have thrown something in the wrong bin they can put it in the right one.  They take their jobs really seriously.”

Source: USDA

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