Students in K-12 public schools are eating for free this year, but that means more food may be ending up in the trash. Even before the pandemic, a 2019 study estimated 530,000 tons of school food is wasted each year.
Mary Rochelle, a manager in the Boulder Valley School District food service department said there are lot of factors that contribute to school food waste.
“Shorter lunch times contribute if they aren’t hungry that day or if they want to talk to their friends. Also, the USDA school lunch program requires minimum nutrition standards and students must be served certain things whether the student wants it or not,” Rochelle said.
The Boulder Valley School District has been tackling the problem of food waste for several years. Green Star schools like Columbine Elementary have a composting program and a software called “Leanpath” that tracks how much food is are being thrown away. Schools also have food-share bins where students can place uneaten fruit for other students to grab.
“It's so inspiring to come here during lunch time and you see the kids thoughtfully going through the waste line. These kids have an awareness that I don’t think we did,” said Ghita Carroll, the sustainability coordinator for the district.
Carroll said BVSD is fortunate to have a longtime partnership with Boulder's EcoCycle for recycling and composting. A proposed School Food Recovery Act in Congress would provide funding for more schools nationwide to implement waste measurement and reduction programs.
But Carroll pointed out that reducing food waste can start with education.
"It would be great to have a zero-waste facility, but if your kids aren’t understanding why it’s important, then we’re missing why we’re doing it in the first place," Carroll said.