An Evaluation of Current Lunchroom Food Waste and Food Rescue Programs in a Washington State School District
Public schools waste approximately 30% to 50% of edible food and thus provide opportunities to study the problem of food waste and explore food rescue initiatives. This case study evaluates lunchroom waste sorting and food waste diversion practices in a Washington State school district. It provides a comprehensive analysis including descriptive characteristics and comparative statistical analyses to determine the types and amount of edible, wasted food and the potential to reduce or recover this wasted food. Waste audits were performed at 18 schools to quantify the amount and type of waste generated at each school. Audits consisted of weighing, sorting, and recording the pre and post-sort weights of all lunchroom compost, recycling, and trash. Edible, rescuable food items were removed from bags and counted separately. Lunchroom-specific observational data, including lunchroom layout and implementation of food rescue programs, were also recorded. Statistical analysis evaluated the effect of these programs on lunchroom waste sorting. Data revealed significantly higher post-sort compost rates than pre-sort rates and significantly lower post-sort trash rates than pre-sort rates. Pre- and post-sort recycling rates were not significantly different. This suggests that a significant amount of trash could be diverted from landfills with implementation of a lunchroom composting system. Additionally, participation in sustainability initiatives, such as a county-wide resource conservation program, and use of lunchroom monitors affected waste sorting. Further, audits uncovered a large amount of wasted, edible food. This type of food could potentially be diverted to feeding students or community members experiencing food insecurity by means of food rescue programs, such as lunchroom food share programs or school-to-food-bank donation services. Overall, this study identified potential points for food waste reduction strategies in public school lunchrooms.
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