How can schools reduce food waste? Does it matter?

A report by the Natural Resource Defense Council found that roughly 40% of food in America is thrown away, which is worth about $165 billion per year.  Last year John Oliver critiqued the American obsession with food and propensity for waste.  


Earlier this year I argued that measuring food waste is important for schools because it engages key employees from operations in reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and ultimately improving student achievement by ensuring students have access to desirable and nutritious food and money saved by reducing waste is targeted directly at student need.  

This week Mike Lepene, Richmond Middle School Principal, posted on Twitter a link to a project from the Environmental Research and Education Foundation aimed at reducing cafeteria waste.  The project is requesting schools to volunteer to fill out a short survey (one hour to complete) and measure cafeteria waste several times a year.  The aims:

  • Educating students/school staff regarding more sustainable waste management strategies,
  • Reducing unnecessary food waste,
  • Reducing food costs to schools, and
  • Developing ways to better manage institutional food waste.

This is a wonderful project with ambitious aims.  The data collected could easily be used to focus attention on an area of waste in the system.  What's more, it seems like a great way to engage students in a problem-centered conversation.  Students could lead the measurement, the identification of strategies to reduce waste, and the review of evaluation data.  A project like this could be used to introduce students to the design thinking iterative process of problem solving.  

If we are interested in improving our systems then we should be paying to where we are wasteful.