With a focus on optimizing the value of food served to students, nonprofit foodSCAPE is creating a sustainable model for school communities. The first step in cafeteria wasted-food management is to rescue unopened food products that are commonly thrown in the trash and to redirect it to people in need.
Some food that students decide not to eat can be safely recovered and distributed in the school through “share tables” or through staff such as the school nurse. What can’t be used in the school can be donated to a local food pantry, soup kitchen or feeding site. These foods are unopened commercially prepackaged items such as milk, yogurt, cheese sticks, muffins, granola bars, baby carrots, sliced apples and apple sauce. Whole fruit with the peel intact can also be recovered for future use.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) predicts that one to four pounds of food can be rescued per student per year. This translates to 70 to 300 tons of recoverable food per year in Rhode Island schools. A school with 400 students could recover 40 to 80 pounds of food every week or 1600 to 2800 pounds per year. Forty-four pounds per week can equal 200 separate food items or the equivalent of 37 meals per week.
The foods that can be recovered by schools are fresh and nutritious. For example, milk is something that is often not available at local food pantries. Food rescued from schools could equal 70 percent of fresh retail donations to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank in 2017. The meal gap in 2016 for Rhode Island was estimated to be 33.2 million meals. Recovering food from schools could alleviate about 1 percent of that meal gap. However, the impact is qualitatively greater. These foods represent fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein which are key to healthy meals.
There is a guidance document for what can be recovered and how to do it safely. It can be found on the foodSCAPE website. This document was developed in cooperation with the RI Department of Health and is also endorsed by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Aside from the potential recovery, addressing food waste in schools is key for our communities. Teaching kids about value of food for their health is very important. Students feel empowered by being able to recover the food rather than throwing it away. They can be taught about the impact of food on their health as well as learn about the resources (land, air, water, energy) that are required to grow the food and get it to their plate.
In addition to helping provide perfectly good food to people in need, students also can help their municipalities save costs on waste disposal site charges. Once unopened, rescued food has been addressed, foodSCAPE can create plans to help schools divert pre- and post-consumer food waste. Whether creating onsite compost programs or connecting the school with food scrap collectors, foodSCAPE works to implement a system that is practical, manageable and sustainable for the schools’ abilities.
Board member Diane Calvin is trained as an environmental engineer and has worked in the fields of resource recovery and energy efficiency for many different organizations including local governments, state recycling non-profits, environmental non-profits, state government, private consulting, and school districts. “School food rescue and food waste reduction is a unique opportunity to slow environmental degradation and improve lives of our neighbors in a lasting way,” she says.
To learn more call 781-521-8258, email [email protected] or visit foodSCAPEri.org.
To learn more visit foodscaperi.org, email [email protected] or call 781-521-8258.