As September rolls in, and welcomes with it another school year, we here at Red Box can’t help but think about all our clients within the education industry. Having worked with many schools, academies and universities to produce diverse and sustainable catering solutions, the recent discussions about food waste at schools has got us thinking.
A recent study from WRAP (the Waste and Resource Action Programme) provides some staggering figures as to the extent of food waste in primary and secondary schools. The report, calculates that primary schools waste on average 55,408 tons of food throughout the academic year (40 weeks). Secondary schools don’t fare much better, wasting on average 24,974 tons, totaling an average of 80,382 tons of food wastage across this key education sector.
Within both primary and secondary schools, fruit and vegetables were the “dominant streams of food waste”, which according to WRAP accounted for almost half of food waste in primary schools, and more than a third in secondary schools. Mixed non-sandwich goods (such as cottage pie, bolognese and pizza) also saw high food wastage figures, with 17% of non-sandwich goods in primary schools and 19% from all secondary schools being thrown out respectively.
Not only is 77% of this food waste in both educational sectors avoidable, but it is also amounting to huge costs, not just for the environment, but also financially for the schools as well. Not only is there the cost of actually buying and preparing the food, but then one also has to factor in that cost it takes to transport this waste to landfill sites.
According to WRAP, there are a number of reasons why so much food is being wasted, reasons that innovative and well-researched catering consultants can work with schools together to tackle. Operational reasons such as lack of flexibility within the catering policies, second helpings being disallowed, inflexible portion sizes and food combinations are all cited as reasons for wastage. Situational reasons such as an unpleasant dining experience, and rushed meal times, along with behavioral issues such as hunger and unappealing options also being cited. Upon reading WRAP’s reasoning behind these staggering food wastage it seems that there are some simple solutions that can be applied to help reduce these numbers, and with cooperation between catering companies and schools there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.
Suggested solutions such as meals cooked to order and improving familiarity and appreciation of school meals not only have benefits in term of wastage, but also to the pupils themselves. As stated in a study by zone.recylcedevon.org such policies could help with the children’s literacy, numeracy and geography. Learning about where food comes from and how it is produced could help pupils wider understanding of geography, and also encourage them to take an interest in cooking and eating healthy and nutritional food. A “cook to order” scheme where children have to count the number of people who order certain meals in a morning, or look at a graph, along with pupil friendly instructions, could also contribute to the wider learning of schools, as stated again by zone.recycledevon.org.
In conclusion catering consultants and companies need to be working more closely with schools to develop plans and menus that appeal to the children of today, engage with them, and create an environment where they want to want to eat healthy and nutritious school meals. Furthermore, we need to work with kitchens and canteen catering staff to create a flexible and sustainable operational system, so that the brilliant school meals that are created aren’t wasted.