Rhode Island schools are taking steps to reduce food waste

The Rhode Island Recycling Club is helping schools in Rhode Island tackle the issue of food waste while educating students and faculty.

Amanda Mills, USCDCP | Public Domain
Young boy eating a school lunch

An estimated 5 million pounds of food waste will be generated by school cafeterias in the next year alone, according to a recent article published in The Westerly Sun. This is an extraordinary amount of waste, but due to the controlled nature of the cafeteria environment, simple changes may have huge impacts. 

The Rhode Island School Recycling Club is doing its part to help schools in the Ocean State do their part. This program has seen incredible success in the past year, diverting 13.6 tons of food from the landfill and recovering 1,600 pounds of edible food, which they donated to local shelters. The club’s approach to cutting down on food waste involves rearranging the school’s cafeteria waste by breaking up the usual, single group of trash bins into six different stations:

  1. Share table where students place unopened and uneaten food for other students to choose from.
  2. Liquids bucket where students dump unfinished milk or other liquids. 
  3. Recycling bin where students separate out any materials that can be recycled, such as paper bags.
  4. Compost bin where students place any organic waste that is suitable for either on-site composting or industrial composting that the school has arranged alongside its trash and recycling pick-up.
  5. Trash bin where students place the few remaining items that cannot be shared, recycled or composted.
  6. Cafeteria tray stack where students neatly stack their trays to save space during disposal. While some schools’ trays still go to the trash, schools that use industrial composting systems can opt for compostable trays and help divert this source of waste from the landfill as well.

In addition to the efficient and effective waste station system, the Rhode Island Recycling Club educates staff members and students on the best ways to divert waste from landfills. The group also recommends that schools reevaluate the school lunch portion sizes, especially in elementary schools. This may reduce food waste even more, saving schools money and saving the planet too. 

To help support these efforts, there is a lot parents can do at home. One of the first steps you can take is checking out these 10 tips for reducing food waste in your child’s lunch. You can also check out the Seven Generations Ahead website which includes lots of helpful information for schools and PTAs attempting to make change.

Orion Goodemote

Food Waste Intern, PIRG Education Fund


Show More