Some schools get resourceful in tackling food waste

06/27/2014 10:33:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

Amelia Freidline, copy editorAmelia Freidline, copy editorFood waste is increasingly being recognized as a major problem in the U.S., with the Environmental Protection Agency estimating that 35 million pounds of it wind up in landfills or incinerators every year.

Part of why it’s such a problem is that it affects every stage of the supply chain, from growers who can’t or don’t harvest all of their crops, to retailers battling shrink and unsold product, to foodservice providers pitching scraps and leftovers, to individuals and families throwing moldy blueberries or browning lettuce in the trash.

One area where food waste is particularly tricky is in schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s study of school plate waste under current nutrition standards is ongoing, but its report from 2002 says 12% of calories served to students through the National School Lunch Program ended up in the trash.

Whether school food waste is up or not after the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 seems to depend on your viewpoint or what type of food your school district serves.

The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst reported on an early March study from the Harvard School of Public Health that examined four low-income schools in urban areas before and after the nutrition rules took effect in 2012.

According to the study, students increasingly selected fruits and vegetables after the new standards required them to do so, and the rate of plate waste did not increase.

However, they still threw away up to 75% of the vegetables and 40% of the fruit they selected.

That’s a problem.

An April 1 story in the Los Angeles Times reports that students in the Los Angeles Unified school district pitch at least $100,000 worth of food each day.

Writer Teresa Watanabe cites data from a 2013 study of 15 Utah schools by Cornell University and Brigham Young University that suggests the extra produce served to kids under USDA’s guidelines costs school districts nationally an estimated $5.4 million a day.

Of that amount, $3.8 million winds up in the trash, Watanabe says.


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