When food is discarded, it is brought to a landfill where it just sits. As it rots, it releases a significant amount of methane gas into the air, increasing global warming. More food waste is entering landfill sites than any other solid waste.
70 billion pounds of food in the US is wasted a year. That’s enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium. Almost 40% of all food per year is wasted. But who are we to blame for this, the social reproduction skills schools and families have taught us or the careless generation we are currently stuck in? Governmental institutions like schools are just as accountable for food waste as the rest of us. So the real question here is: Are schools ordering too much food, or are students just not eating it; and how can the world fix this?
The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement started by Cornell’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition program has done multiple studies to find creative solutions to decrease food waste at schools. One thing this movement statistics proved is how big of a role human behavior is within a food system.
- Naming vegetables and displaying the new names with the foods increased selection of vegetables from between 40% – 70% (like grilled asparagus)
- The first of highlighted entrée on the lunch line has an 11% advantage over the second option
- The number of students consuming “healthy items” increased by 35% after the introduction of a “healthy choices only” convenience line.
Even though schools are producing food waste at fast rates, there are solutions to mitigate this ongoing issue.
One of the biggest takeaways I got from this organization is putting the healthy foods near busy spots like the register, which makes it more noticeable and accessible. Healthier foods tend to spoil, or go rotten quicker than processed foods. So by doing this, it would lessen the chances of food waste occurring.
I am aware that not every school has composting, proper recycling bins, and landfill bins. First, schools need to actually purchase these bins and teach students how to properly compost, recycle, and throw away items. They also need to TEACH children and young adults about the positive environmental impacts from this process.
A system directly corresponds with human behavior. If you do not educate children on how to properly dispose of their own foods/drinks, they will ultimately throw away their scraps in whichever bin is the most accessible. Schools need to prove to students that this system isn’t simply just cleaning up after yourself in the cafeteria.
Food waste and recovery should be implemented in the curriculum, whether it be teaching or engaging in volunteer work around food systems at a young age. Simple things like helping students bag left over food for people in need, or organizing a club that sorts waste properly all benefit this system. Schools could be donating their left over food to the local food pantry, or the homeless shelter community like Boulder Food Rescue.
Schools need to think about what’s really on their students’ plates and where it’s going next. There are solutions, but where is the action?