Green Teams, FPS Food Service, and PTOs Collaborate on Efforts to Reduce Cafeteria Waste
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a single student produces 67 pounds of lunch waste each year. Using this estimate, FPS students produce more than 500,000 pounds of garbage from lunch waste in a nine-month school year!
Recognizing potential for environmental and economic savings, the Fayetteville Public School Food Service Team, school Green Teams, and Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) have started several initiatives to reduce waste in cafeterias and school kitchens.
School kitchens have recycled cardboard boxes for several years and began recycling number ten steel cans across the district in Fall 2011. Money generated from recycling the steel cans goes to the Fayetteville School Nutrition Association (FSNA). FSNA funds help provide scholarships for high school students to attend college. Tina Bowlin, Food Service Manager at Owl Creek, says the benefits of recycling the steel cans are "lighter trash, more room in the landfills, and the money [generated from recycling the steel cans] goes for a good cause back to our families in the district."
In August 2010, Adam Simmons, FPS Child Nutrition Director, helped the nine FPS elementary schools make the transition from disposable trays, forks and spoons to reusable plastic trays and metal forks and spoons.
Root Elementary School received the Green Fork Award at last year's Green Team End of the Year Celebration for their innovative efforts to reduce waste in their cafeteria.
The Root Green Team and PTO held a "Spork-a-thon" last spring to collect metal forks and spoons for use in the cafeteria. Between 50 and 100 forks and spoons were collected to avoid the use of plastic utensils. Mary House, Root Green Team committee chair, explains, "The Spork-a-thon was the idea of one of our Green Team leaders when the cafeteria mentioned that we were running low on reusable silverware. Initially, we were thinking of ways to purchase more silverware, but when the idea of a collection was mentioned, we knew it was certainly worth a try. Reducing and reusing at the same time. We were pleased with its success and the students really seemed to enjoy being personally involved."
The Root Green Team was originally started four years ago as a committee of the PTO that acted as a liaison between administrative green efforts and parents and students. Today the Green Team still provides close connection between those involved with environmental efforts at Root, in addition to providing students with an after-school club focused on green issues. "One of the goals of our PTO is to become more sustainable and continually work on green efforts throughout the school," explains House.
The Root PTO also raised money last spring to buy reusable "clam-shell" containers for the third choice at lunch. The third choice is a pre-packaged lunch option that comes in a plastic clam-shell container.
"When we realized just how many of the disposable clam-shell containers the cafeteria had to throw away, we wanted to find a way to eliminate the waste. The Green Team approached the PTO with a request to help with funding for replacing the disposable containers with re-usable ones. The PTO voted to generously donate the remaining money," House explains.
Leverett Elementary School has also ordered reusable clam-shell containers this year. Leverett Green Team leader, Karen Bley, requested money from the PTO to purchase the containers. The PTO approved the funding for one hundred containers, which are currently on order.
Green Teams and FPS Food Service Team will continue to search for ways to reduce cafeteria waste and plans for a waste audit are underway to better understand what is thrown away and identify more opportunities for waste reduction.
"As far as waste reduction in the lunchroom, the next step is to continue to educate and encourage students in packing waste free lunches. We have talked about starting "trash checks" where we award prizes for efforts in waste free lunches," says House on the next steps towards waste reduction at Root Elementary.
If you would like to conduct a waste audit at your school or would like more information about other lunch waste reduction efforts, please contact FPS Arkansas Energy Corps Member, Sammi Jones at email@example.com or FPS Sustainability Coordinator, Dana Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.