Local Food Waste Reduction: An Email to My District’s School Board
Updated: Nov 24, 2022
As you probably know by now, educating others on the importance of minimizing food waste is one of my lifelong passions. I mentioned in a previous blog that food loss is an especially significant problem in public schools in the United States, as even untouched milk cans and mandarin oranges far too often make their way to the depths of colossal garbage bins. Such waste can largely be attributed to national policies that require students to take food items that they simply do not want or need. While pushing for policy changes could potentially prevent an army’s worth of food from being discarded in the first place, there are plenty of other solutions that are cheaper and easier to execute on a local level but with similarly promising results. It is for this reason that I recently emailed the school board and superintendent of the Lewisville Independent School District (LISD) to shed light on the problem that food waste poses in my community – as well as the ways to combat it. Today, I am excited to share my email with you. I hope you join me on this journey as I update you with the responses I receive!
Note: Additional notes that were not included in the original email can be found in green.
Subject: HHS [my high school’s abbreviation] Student Proposal to Reduce Food Waste in LISD Schools
Members of the LISD Board,
My name is Trisha Bhujle, and I am a current senior at Hebron High School. First and foremost, I would like to thank you for all of the work that you do to better the lives of LISD students. Since you so consistently advocate us and our opinions, I wanted to bring to your attention a district-wide issue that I believe you can help address, even though I will be graduating in just a matter of days.
As an ardent environmentalist who recognizes our district’s potential to lead green initiatives, I am emailing you today to propose solutions to the food waste that I have noticed in several LISD schools. My understanding is that LISD follows the “Offer versus Serve” provision of the National School Lunch Program, meaning that students are offered grains, meat/a meat substitute, fruits, vegetables, and milk and required to pick from at least three of these categories if they are eating a school lunch. This policy has given students a great variety of affordable (or in our district, free) options aimed at maintaining a balanced diet – all at the expense of the food itself. Because they are required to take at least three items, students often pile their trays high with foods that they do not want and discard them upon exiting the lunch line. I witness this with my own eyes every day: Students grab a milk carton or a fruit cup in order to meet the complete meal requirement, only to trash it moments later.
The effects of district-wide food waste go beyond the economic sphere. Aside from the loss of thousands of dollars and thousands of gallons of water that were put into the preparation of the uneaten food, the food waste itself contributes to global warming once bacteria begin to break it down in landfills. And the statistics, according to a World Wildlife Fund study, further illustrate the alarming extent to which food is wasted in public schools. The elementary and middle schools studied generated around 40 pounds of food waste per student per year, while the high schools generated just shy of 30 pounds per student per year. Milk waste, in cartons, was also especially high at the elementary school level, nearing 38 cartons per student per year. Many of the schools studied bore close resemblance to LISD schools with regards to size and demographics.
As I step back from the numbers, I hope to convince you to push for cost-effective initiatives that minimize food waste in our district. While the optimal solution is to alter the “Offer versus Serve” section of the National School Lunch Program to recommend rather than require students to take at least three items, I understand that this is highly unrealistic. The following are a few relatively feasible ideas that I have, all of which have been adopted in some form by other elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the country:
Compost: Turning uneaten fruit and vegetables into mulch can keep this food out of landfills, while also enhancing school property and landscaping.
Offer Smaller Fruit Portions: Offering sliced instead of whole fruit can reduce fruit waste by making students more inclined to finish what is on their plates. Students are, for example, more willing to eat two or three apple slices than an entire apple.
Change Timing/Duration of Lunch: Extending lunches by only ten minutes can reduce school food waste by up to ⅓ because students can finish food that they otherwise do not have time to eat. For elementary schools, having recess before lunch can make students hungrier and can once again reduce school food waste by up to ⅓.
Create Share Tables: Share Tables are communal cafeteria spaces where students can put uneaten packaged food or fruit with peels, such as oranges and bananas. Food placed on Share Tables can be put back in cafeteria fridges, donated to food pantries, used for after-school snack programs, or taken by other students in the school. One of my teachers at IES [my elementary school’s abbreviation] actually did this every morning after breakfast. She would encourage us to put our uneaten, untouched items on a table in our classroom rather than in the trash can, so that the food could be eaten as an afternoon snack or donated at the end of the day to those who most needed it.
Use To-Go Containers: At the start of the year, schools can give one reusable to-go container to each student who wants one, and students can use it to take uneaten food home. Though this would require a small investment by LISD and certain items like milk may still go to waste, the outcome — less food loss — is arguably worth the initial cost.
Advisory [homeroom] Education: Many students are simply unaware of the sheer quantity of food that is wasted by schools and the environmental and social effects that come with it. Incorporating weekly or monthly advisory lessons to teach students how to minimize their own food waste can make students more aware of their own habits, and more willing to change them.
Schools in LISD have a sizable contribution to nationwide food and milk loss – one that can be easily reduced if more students and staff are educated on the issue and actively work to become more responsible consumers. As climate change continues to be at the forefront of our lives and it becomes increasingly difficult to feed the global population, LISD’s untapped potential to limit its food waste is clear as day. If the schools in our district take even a few of the actions described here, we can keep more food on people’s plates and out of landfills, for the benefit of both us and our environment.
I am grateful to be in a district that has always been so receptive to student voices, and I hope you consider my ideas as you move into the following school year. I wish you a restful summer break, and I look forward to hearing back from you soon!