By Diogo de Assis, Long Branch Schools
Schools produce a large amount of waste and the George L Catrambone School in Long Branch was no exception until a large grant funded by Sustainable Jersey for Schools (SJS) helped purchase a brand new Ecovim Food Dehydrator for their cafeteria. With the help of SJS and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Food Waste Team, teachers and students at GLC learned that schools produce about 530,00 tons of solid food waste and 45 million gallons of milk waste each year in the United States.
In a three-day study at GLC, we collected 625.17 lbs of food waste with the largest percentage being fruit and dairy.
We knew that as a Silver certified school and a leader in sustainability efforts for the state of NJ, we could do much better than this. With the help of great organizations like Sustainable Jersey for Schools and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Food Waste Team, our students and staff members were educated on food waste reduction strategies and began this school year with plans in place.
Throughout lunch, students are able to bring unwanted, unopened food to a share table and refrigerator in the lunchroom. It is accessible for all those who are hungry and would like additional food as well as set up on a cart and shared with students at dismissal to bring home for a healthy after school snack.
During lunch our student Waste Warrior Team helps to collect lunch trays sorting food at our collection stations designed and built by the LBPS facilities team to prepare waste for the composter. At the end of lunch all of the collected waste gets put into the food dehydrator which can hold up to 250lbs of waste daily. The Ecovim 250 is started at the end of lunch and will run for approximately 15 hours to break down and dehydrate the waste. The next morning the leftover waste is a beautiful rich soil amendment for our beautiful school gardens. Our students have become experts at reducing food waste and are looking forward to using our compost to feed our school gardens this spring and summer!
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) approximately one third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted. That is approximately 1.3 billion tons of food per year. In the United States we throw out about 40% of the food we grow (Gunders, 2012), with food being lost and wasted at every step of the food supply chain, from growing the food at the farm to throwing away food in our refrigerators. The majority of our food waste, approximately 31%, happens at the retail and consumer level, equating to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion of food wasted annually.(Gunders, 2012)
Food that is wasted and uneaten has a significant environmental cost, considering that agriculture takes up approximately 80% of US fresh water consumption, 50% of US land, and 10% of US energy consumption. Additionally in 2010, the economic cost of disposing of food into landfills was more than $2 billion. (Gunders, 2012) This is because “food is the single largest component of municipal solid waste going to landfills, accounting for over 20% by weight.”
Finally, food waste is contributing to current concerns related to climate change. Food waste creates methane, a greenhouse gas which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Decreasing food waste will not only save the land, water, labor, and energy used to produce food, it will also improve our greenhouse gas emissions. Institutions such as K-12 schools and higher education institutions are ideal settings to reduce food waste. Food waste is expected in school settings due to the individual food preferences and differing caloric needs of students. By establishing best management practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food waste, schools can be an instrumental venue to meet the food waste goals set by EPA and USDA. That is why the EPA and USDA created a U.S. Food Waste Challenge, with focus on high waste producers such as K-12 schools and consumers.(U.S. Food Waste Challenge, (2017).