We need to prevent food waste at school
Every day that school is in session, more than 29 million students receive healthy meals because of the National School Lunch Program—meals that help students focus in the classroom, reduce food insecurity, and improve their overall health.
Unfortunately, some of that food ends up in a landfill. Whether it’s a banana peel or carrot top, food waste is inevitable in school cafeterias. Between 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted. As co-chair of the Food Recovery Caucus, I understand that this staggering level of waste is an incredible economic and environmental burden.
Think about all of the hard work, water, energy, and other resources involved in producing our food—just for it to end up in a landfill. Across the country, farmers and ranchers work an area of land roughly the size of Pennsylvania to produce food that no one will ever eat while tens of millions of Americans simultaneously experience some level of food insecurity. The collective efforts to produce, package, deliver, and dispose of wasted food are responsible for an estimated 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent study by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) looked at food waste in 46 schools across nine U.S. cities. By engaging students in measuring their own plate waste in the cafeteria and tying those efforts to a curriculum focused on the environmental impacts of food waste, but with minimal other intervention, schools succeeded in reducing waste by an average of 3 percent. WWF found that if schools nationwide achieved a 3 percent reduction, our country could save $69 million every school year on food and milk otherwise destined for the waste stream. In the process, we could cut a level of greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 12,400 vehicles off the road for an entire year.
There’s tremendous opportunity for the federal government to support schools that are already tackling the challenge of food waste. By scaling up current efforts, we could save billions of dollars for American families, farmers, and businesses, and can also empower the next generation with a deeper understanding of the relationship between their plate and the environment.
I recently introduced H.R. 5607, the bipartisan School Food Recovery Act, alongside Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.). The bill would create a new program at USDA to award competitive grants to schools for food waste projects. This funding would support capacity-building and implementation of food waste measurement and reduction programs in schools.
With these grants, schools could purchase new equipment, provide food waste reduction training for staff, or support share tables or other recovery programs in their cafeterias. Schools could also use grant funding to conduct food waste audits, which help to identify ways to prevent food waste from happening in the first place.
Food waste initiatives have long enjoyed bipartisan support—a tradition we continue with this bill. By enlisting schools in the fight against food waste, we can teach kids about the impacts of food waste from an early age while saving money and reducing the impact on our environment.
Pingree represents Maine’s 1st District and is a member of the Agriculture Committee.
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