Reducing Food Waste at Schools

In light of the upcoming Massachusetts Food Waste Disposal Ban and growing popularity of school gardens and composting, THE GREEN TEAM has compiled a list of links, lesson plans and how-to’s to help teachers introduce these topics into their classrooms and schools.  If your school is interested in implementing a food waste diversion or composting program, please request help on the registration form or email THE GREEN TEAM.  We have resources to help you start a compost program, request free equipment, and offer expert technical assistance.  We’d love to help!


Massachusetts Food Waste Disposal Ban:

Effective October 1, 2014, commercial organic material from certain facilities will be added to the list of banned materials at solid waste facilities.  Just as recyclable paper, card­board, bottles, cans, leaves and yard waste are banned from disposal in Massachusetts, commercial food waste from certain facilities will be restricted from disposal, contracting for disposal, or transferring for disposal.  Banned commercial organic material is defined as food and vege­tative material from businesses and institutions that dispose of one ton or more of that material per week.  Learn more about the new ban on commercial organics disposal on RecyclingworksMA.com.

MassDEP and RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts have evaluated past waste audits at Massachusetts schools and determined that on average, schools dispose approximately 0.5 lbs of food waste per student per week.  This means that a school with 4,000 students or more may be subject to the ban.  Smaller schools will likely not be subject to the ban.  Please note that this figure accounts for schools that offer one meal per day.  Schools that serve multiple meals per day or cafeterias that act as a central kitchen for multiple schools should evaluate their food waste tonnage accordingly.  Please email THE GREEN TEAM if you have questions on your school’s food waste generation and the food waste ban or read more here.

Regardless of the food waste disposal ban, THE GREEN TEAM encourages all schools to reduce and divert food waste from the solid waste stream and use this action as a learning opportunity for your students.

What is Compost?
Compost is decomposed organic material, such as plants and leftover food, and is also called “humus,” a dark brown component of soil rich in plant nutrients.   Composting is the oldest form of recycling.  Composting is managing the decomposition process, through which naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the material into humus. 

Composting at schools can help students understand concepts such as decomposition and energy cycles, while reducing the amount of organic material going to landfills or incinerators.

**Prior to starting a compost program, encourage your school to reduce food waste.   Careful preparation in the kitchen and encouraging healthy eating can do wonders to reduce the amount of waste generated.  Consider instituting a “Share Table” in your cafeteria for unwanted items that can be taken by other students during lunch.  See more links below on waste reduction.

How to Divert Food Waste from Disposal:

There are several ways you can divert school food waste from disposal.  Factors include volume, cost, available resources, and participation.

  1. Schools can vermicompost!  You can make a low cost “worm bin” and add small amounts of fruit and vegetable waste and watch the worms turn the material into vermicompost, the best type of compost there is!
  2. Schools can compost on-site using outdoor compost bins such as the ones offered by THE GREEN TEAM.  Finished compost can be used beneficially in school gardens or school landscaping.  Some schools divert all food waste using multiple bins.
  3. Schools can connect with local farmers and divert food waste to feed animals.  Local, long term relationships are helpful in establishing these programs and keeping them active.
  4. Schools can contract for commercial collection just like they do for trash and recycling.  This usually incurs a cost, but the management involved in composting the waste on-site is eliminated.  Commercial programs may also accept other compostable materials in addition to food waste.

What you can compost:
What you can divert with your compost program depends on how and where it is being managed.  Know what you can manage in an on-site program and confirm what is acceptable with any off-site vendor you may divert to.

  • Schools composting on-site should only add vegetative food scraps (fruits, vegetables, etc.) to their bins.  They can also add biodegradable paper, such as napkins, bags, waxed paper, waxed cardboard and paperboard trays.  They should not add meats, dairy or fats to avoid odors and pest issues.  Rodent-proofing on-site compost bins is a good practice to follow.
  • Schools diverting to farms for animal feed can only divert food waste.  Pigs and cows don’t like paper or compostable utensils.
  • Schools diverting to commercial programs can usually divert all food waste, including meat and dairy products.  Additionally, they can compost waxed cardboard, paper napkins and certified compostable disposable products.  Specific acceptable items are defined by each composting facility, so check with them before setting up your program.

How to get and use a free compost bin from THE GREEN TEAM:
Green Team members may request a compost bin or worms through this application! Schools are encouraged to request one compost bin to start, and may request additional bins, as needed, after the first bin is up and running successfully.

THE GREEN TEAM How to Compost at School video
Video demonstrating how to compost at schools, length 4:45.

 

THE GREEN TEAM How to Set Up the New Age Composter
Video demonstrating how to set up the compost bin available from THE GREEN TEAM, length 6:51.

 

Any Massachusetts school planning to compost food waste on-site must notify their local Board of Health and regional office of MassDEP, 30 days in advance of starting the program, as a “Small Composting Operation not at a Residence,” using this form.

Lesson Plans & Materials
Compost Lesson Plan – Students observe soil organisms in a compost sample, then fill a compost bin with organic wastes and observe the decomposition of the organic wastes into humus during the school year. Covers a discussion/observation session and details bin set-up.
Food Web of the Compost Pile –  A 8.5×11 illustration of the food web of decomposers that carry out the composting process.
Composting is Easy! – A well-illustrated poster of the different components and maintenance of a compost pile.
Outline for  a Home Composting Presentation (MassDEP) – An outline and script for containing all the basic information to include in a home composting presentation.
Vermicomposting: Indoor Composting with Worms –  Fact sheet on how to set up and manage an indoor worm bin.
Lunch Against Landfill: Us vs. Waste –  Set up a composting system to wipe out food waste in your cafeteria. Your system can be small or large, indoor or outdoor, and on school grounds or off-site.  Provided by the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE).

School Manuals & External Resources

Food Waste Diversion Guide for Schools  –  The Green Team guide on how to plan and implement a food waste diversion program.
Starting a School Recycling Program  –  The Green Team guide on how to plan and implement a recycling program.
What You Can Do To Help Prevent Wasted Food  –  This booklet from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes tips for nutrition professionals, teachers, administrators, parents, and students on how to reduce wasted food in schools.
Food Waste Audits – Guide for Schools – The guide, published by the USDA and EPA is an easy-to-follow roadmap that students, teachers and staff can use to investigate what food is going to waste in their cafeterias, and learn how to implement solutions for preventing and reducing student waste.
School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP) – A nationwide data collection program to quantify food and related waste generated in cafeterias of K-12 schools. Register to share your school’s waste management practices and help guide future policy initiatives to minimize waste at schools nationwide.
Massachusetts’ School Meal Programs Share Table Guidance – This guidance, from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, describes how to implement a share table program to safely share uneaten packaged food and whole fruits in the cafeteria.
Food Sharing Tables – Guidance for Schools – This guidance, written by the state of Vermont, provides instruction for setting up “sharing tables” in school cafeterias to reduce the amount of wasted food by sharing unwanted items with classmates.
A Manual for Implementing School Recycling Programs  –  Information on how to set up and maintain school recycling and composting programs.
MassDEP School Composting Resource Package – A collection of resources on composting for teachers and school officials.
School Cafeteria Recycling and Composting Resources  –  A collection of training presentations and guidelines for reducing trash in school cafeterias from the Univ. of Southern Maine and EPA.
Composting in Restaurants and Schools: A Municipal Tool-Kit – Information on establishing and maintaining composting programs in restaurants and schools.
Andover High School On-Site Cafeteria Composting Manual, 2011-2012 – A manual developed for Andover High School’s on-site cafeteria composting program.
Andover High School Off-Site Cafeteria Composting Manual, 2012-2013 –  A manual developed for Andover High School’s off-site cafeteria composting program.
Andover High School Cafeteria Composting Program Update, Jan. 2014 – Andover High School’s cafeteria composting program update.
School Composting: A Manual for CT Schools – This manual, written specifically for K-12 schools, outlines the steps necessary for establishing and maintaining a successful school-wide on-site composting program for cafeteria food scraps.
Florida’s Online Composting Center:  – This website includes a composting tutorial and general information on composting.

Composting Videos from Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection  – “Home Composting; Turning Your Spoils To Soil” 17 min.  Excellent “how-to-compost” video suitable for classrooms, workshops, libraries and other educational outreach.

Focus on Waste Reduction with the following links:

EPA Food Recovery Challenge – Schools can join the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and pledge to reduce waste food.
Waste Free Lunches – This website contains a lot of useful information about the ways in which student lunch waste can be minimized before composting and recycling. Check out the “Links” page for several good resources.
EPA Reuse & Recycling = Waste Reduction – A manual full of helpful tips on different types of school waste reduction programs.
USDA Food Donation Fact Sheet – Guidance on food donation from school cafeterias.
California Integrated Waste Management Board – Provides tips and resources for setting up or improving an existing school waste reduction program.
Fort Collins Waste Reduction at School – Waste reduction suggestions for classrooms and offices.
One Less Straw Campaign – Schools can sign up and take the pledge to hand out plastic straws only if requested.
Save The Food  – A campaign, sponsored by the AdCouncil and National Resource Defense Council. Schools can use campaign videos and posters to spread the word about reducing wasted food at school or at home.

Reusable vs. Disposable:

What happened to washing dishes and silverware?  Many schools found it less costly to purchase disposable products than to operate dishwashers and staff to clean reusable products.  This business model is being re-evaluated and some schools are switching back to durable service ware and dishwashing machines.  The continued purchases of disposable service ware plus the cost for waste disposal are not always less expensive than using reusable wares.  If your school must use disposable products in the cafeteria, consider purchasing certified compostable products, if your school has the option to compost.  Here are some related reports and articles discussing this topic:

Franklin County Solid Waste Management District – Reusable plates vs. disposable plates
Life Cycle Environmental and Cost Analysis of Disposable and Reusable Wares in School Cafeterias, Including Dishwasher Operation – School Nutrition Foundation
Dishes and trays in the school lunchroom – Should your school choose reusable or disposable dishware?

Portland, ME school district drops polystyrene lunch trays – Schools invest in compostable lunch trays and create environmental stewards through composting and recycling initiatives.

Framingham Public Schools Organics Diversion and Reusable Tray Program – Case study of the Town of Framingham’s successful effort to switch to reusable trays and utensils and install or refurbish dishwashing machines in four elementary schools. This project was funded by a grant from MassDEP.