Just in time for Earth Day, the Center for Green Schools has released a toolkit to help school stakeholders create programs to reduce and recover surplus food.
"Sharing the Table: A Roadmap to Reducing and Recovering Surplus Food in Schools" shares programs that can help school staff redirect food that was assembled for student meals but not eaten. Instead of being wasted, much of this type of surplus food can be given away for later consumption by students, their families and the community. The toolkit, created by Oakland and San Diego Unified School Districts, draws on the experiences and methods of both as they overcame challenges in implementing these programs.
K–12 schools have a unique standing in the wider food waste reduction conversation, due to the number of meals served every day and the position that schools hold in their communities. In the U.S. alone, an estimated $1.24 billion of food is wasted annually in schools.
Oakland and San Diego Unified School Districts have become models in successful food waste reduction. Oakland USD currently diverts more than 50% of all waste from the landfill, and since 2016, San Diego USD diverted 381,000 pounds of food waste through its programs.
In addition to having tremendous impacts on the environment, surplus food reduction and recovery programs also benefit students and their community in multiple ways. By considering what they won’t eat on their plate and giving those items back to be given to others, students are prompted to be more thoughtful about our relationship to food.
Additionally, whether by providing extra food to students through share tables or by giving meals to the local food bank, food recovery programs nurture connections to the community and a sense of empathy. Teaching about the donation of surplus food to local food banks and families in need connects students directly with the realities of hunger and food justice issues on a local level.
Although there are many ways to reduce school food waste, barriers can be found in each. The approach outlined in this toolkit, creating surplus food reduction and recovery programs, often runs up against stringent food donation laws. The authors address these restrictions and provide guidance on working within the law and advocating to local and state legislators for enabling legislation.
Often coupled with the National School Lunch Program, food reduction and recovery programs are approachable and can be applied in any school, whether Title 1, charter or private. Implementation requires little or no cost and often results in savings, because the school has to order less food, and serving portions are assessed and fine-tuned throughout implementation.
Recovering food waste through donation and sharing programs is a strategy that is already being used successfully in school districts around the U.S. The "Sharing the Table Roadmap" seeks to lower the barriers for school districts in reducing and recovering their surplus food, in the hope of strengthening connections to their community and seeing a dramatic reduction of food waste.