National food waste (not including milk) in U.S. schools is estimated to be 530,000 tons per year, costing as much as $9.7 million per day or $1.7 billion every school year, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The new report, funded by the largest U.S. grocery company, The Kroger Co., and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), analyzed post-service food waste in 46 elementary, middle, and high schools in nine U.S. cities.
The report was produced as part of WWF’s Food Waste Warriors program in Atlanta, Boulder, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, and Seattle over the course of six months. The environmental advocacy group called the report “one of the largest studies on plate waste in school cafeterias to date.”
While results varied, participating schools on average produced about 39.2 pounds of food waste and 19.4 cartons of milk waste per student per year.
Throughout the four-to-six-week audit period, all participating schools saw reductions in their food waste – on average 3 percent from first to last audit – just by measuring what was going in the trash. Elementary schools showed even more promise, averaging a 14.5 percent reduction, with the top three performing schools reducing food waste by an average of 53 percent.
“Producing food has a tremendous impact on our planet and biodiversity, but the plate-to-planet connection is not always made,” said Pete Pearson, WWF’s senior director food loss and waste. “By raising awareness on the issue of waste and engaging champions in our schools, we can inspire the next generation of students to tackle the global food waste challenge.”
The study is not a statistically representative sample of the more than 100,000 schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, WWF said.