By: Maya Tabora & Zoë Espiritu
As I sit down in the Dining Hall, the loud hubbub of chatter fills the space. I try to eat my food rather than pay attention to the conversation my friends are having. I find my mind wandering to the essay I have due tomorrow, my math quiz next class, and rapidly approaching AP exams. Suddenly, my meal doesn’t look all that appetizing after consuming a three course meal of anxiety. I empty my lightly touched plate into the trash and make my way up to the main building to keep doing work.
Food waste contributes to climate change through its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Aside from the physical food being wasted, it is important to be mindful of the other resources that must be used to transport these products in the first place. Worldwildlife.org says, “About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The purchasing of ingredients adds to the impact of the environment before anything is thrown away. If you drive, use another form of transportation that doesn’t burn fossil fuels to go grocery shopping or to go out to eat; those are additional emissions being released into the atmosphere. Additionally, in the U.S, 68% of house
holds have a gas stove, (which emits carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde into the atmosphere) rather than an electric stove.
Moving on to how food waste is produced in schools. U.S. schools alone produce 530,00 tons of food waste annually. While it can be argued that because our school is self-serve, our institution is still a contributing factor. Before COVID-19, the Dining Hall composted food scraps. However, the Dining Hall has not resumed this practice. Regardless, composting is the second to last tier on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “Food Recovery Hierarchy”.
The first tier on the chart is food reduction: be mindful of your servings, and don’t feel pressured to serve yourself a large amount if you’re not certain you will eat it all, you can always get seconds. The middle three tier refer to a solution that is of higher complexity. Only nonperishable goods may be donated for human consumption, which limits what Kent Place can donate considering the majority of wasted food has already been prepared to be served. A potentially better option would be to put our food scraps towards feeding animals. With proper handling, this option is possibly cheaper than transferring scraps to a landfill and saves farmers money. The next tier refers to anaerobic digestion which is a process where, “microorganisms break down organic materials, such as food scraps, manure, and sewage sludge”. The two valuable products produced by this process are biogas and digestate. These can be used for crop fertilization and as a renewable source of energy.
Now how much does our school use each day? An estimated amount of food bought daily would be 800 pounds, as each person would equal one pound of food. We interviewed a staff member from the Dining Hall and asked various questions regarding food waste. First, we asked, “What is done with the food scraps from the cafeteria?” The employee replied that nothing usually happens and it usually goes to the trash. We then asked, “What are your thoughts about the overall food waste the KP cafeteria produces?” They responded that they would like to compost (with what food can be done), but it would require lots of planning. It would be essential to use a reliable system to ensure the safety of the student body and adults. We then asked, “Have you seen less food waste since the Dining Hall has changed to being self-serve?” They responded that the Primary School usually throws out more than the Upper School. This would be because the Upper School is self-serve compared to the Primary School, where staff gives out the food. The last question we asked was, “Do you agree with the way the school handles food waste?” They responded, stating that many components must come first before deciding, like what to do with leftover food. Because of these steps necessary to take, it’s challenging to start something new despite it being attainable. Based on this interview, food waste is common in cafeterias, and though there are many solutions, it’s challenging to achieve them.
So, how can individuals help? As the Dining Hall staff member shared, we could begin with composting in our school and attempt to achieve that in the later years. We can help outside of school by saving or storing food for another time. Instead of throwing away food, keep it and heat it in a microwave or oven. Households can also have food plans and have food prepared beforehand, as it can not only help with food waste but save money and time. When buying food from the grocery store, check the date labels to ensure that your food is preserved to its best date.
Even if you don't have the chance to do all these things, you can do your part by raising food awareness and encouraging students to buy only what's necessary. By just raising awareness, you can contribute to stopping food waste, and if cut entirely, we would be able to feed billions of people in the world!