Nine elementary schools in the Goleta Union School District (GUSD) saved thousands of pounds of food waste and packaging from the landfill this past school year by sharing food and composting the scraps.
“Learning extends beyond the classroom,” said GUSD Food Services Director Kim Leung. “The cafeteria not only is a place for students to be exposed to new foods but also serves as a resource for students to learn about sustainability.”
All nine of the schools implemented food-share and composting programs, funded by the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department. The food share program encourages students to place unwanted but still-safe-to-eat foods and drinks on designated share carts so other students can pick them up for lunch rather than throwing the food away. The carts are managed by cafeteria staff and adult volunteers.
“This is a great way for schools to provide additional food to hungry people while keeping safe-to-eat foods out of our landfills,” said County Public Health’s Environmental Health Specialist Kendra Wise. “The program teaches students about food safety as well as the environmental impacts our daily actions can have.”
The composting program, separate than the food share one, is for the unsafe-to-eat food scraps. Several of the nine schools in the district have started pilot programs to collect student plate waste for composting this year, and the county hopes the district will expand it to more schools in the coming school years. The county used a recently developed food-waste-reduction guide called Food Forward: School Edition as a model for the programs.
County Program Specialist Sam Dickinson explained that although the county pays for the programs, the education behind them comes from their partnership with Explore Ecology. Each of the nine schools have different options for which “lesson path” it will take from Explore Ecology.
The schools can either have a school-wide assembly put on by Explore Ecology that is focused on food carts and plate waste, or they can take a field trip to Explore Ecology’s Art From Scrap shop, which supplies low-cost art supplies made from reusable materials saved from landfills. There are three different lessons the schools can choose from, too: food waste reduction, waste reduction, or composting.
“We are proud to be making a difference on this planet for future generations and beyond,” Leung said.