The role of students in combating food waste in schools

According to a recent study, the education sector accounts for about 13% of England’s non-domestic food waste, with about 123,000 tons being thrown out each year. An estimated 80,382 tonnes of food waste are produced by schools in the country annually. Of this waste, 63,099 tonnes are avoidable.

Despite the large numbers, however, combating the food waste problem is not as hard as it may seem for schools. Simple solutions where school boards, catering managers and student bodies work together can go a long way in cutting down on waste and improving the overall dining experience. 

Moreover, WRAP estimates that food waste at colleges and schools adds up to about 250 million pounds of extra cost each year and that the elimination of avoidable waste would reduce the cost of a school meal by 22 pence.

Therefore, reducing food waste makes financial sense for schools. Here are two establishments worth mentioning:

Carymoor Environmental Trust

Getting pupils to understand and engage with food and food waste is critical. This nature conservation charity in Somerset works with several primary schools to combat waste reduction, using resources such as education packs and school trips to a landfill site so that students can see for themselves how discarded food is treated. Exposing them to how much waste there is can alert them to the need to save food and encourage them to take their steps towards that.

Preston Primary

At this school in Yeovil, a landfill site visit prompted the students to start their food waste project, in which they went through the food waste in the school bins to examine what proportions could be composted, recycled and sent to landfill.

Teaching students about food waste has other positive effects too. Let us analyse:

1. Several schools now have food committees where students share their menu choices and portion size preferences, so that caterers can prepare meals that will get eaten by students.

At a broader level, food education can deepen children’s understanding of geography and culture and teach them to appreciate different eating habits better.


2. By showing them where food comes from and where it goes, students can develop an interest in health and nutrition and ask for better choices to be included on the menu.

3. Simultaneously, school meal policies need to be adapted to allow for better food choices and a more sustainable catering process. Instead of preparing meals in bulk, for instance, schools can hire chefs who prepare live meals to order using the ingredients and quantities that students want.

4. Clearly labelling and displaying menu options will allow students to choose what they want and order just that.

5. Lengthy queues can also put students off their food – organising staggered meal timings, allowing meal pre-orders, offering grab-and-go options and having multiple serving points can address this

6. Extending the lunch hour will enable students to complete their meals and digest it better, which is beneficial for their health in addition to helping with the wastage.

The dining area can also be made more conducive to eating at leisure, including the use of comfortable chairs and benches, adding acoustic panels to muffle noise, displaying student artwork on the walls and offering outside dining options in the school garden.

Wrapping it up

The critical point when it comes to combating the food waste problem is to understand what the customer – in this case, the student – requires in a meal, and then meet those requirements.

There are several ways to address food waste apart from altering menus, such as providing appropriate portion sizes and ensuring a calm dining environment.

Given that the food waste problem requires cooperation from multiple fronts to address, schools should work actively with both caterers and students to plan healthy, tasty and affordable menu options that children will enjoy and complete.

Is your school looking for an efficient food waste management solution? Waste2ES systems can help! By deploying our innovative technology, we can make food waste processing systems smoother whilst potentially reducing costs. Please call us on 01442 503929 for more information.

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