Seven Generations Ahead Helps Oak Terrace School Achieve Ninety Percent Diversion

Seven Generations Ahead recently reported on assistance provided to Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, IL as part of the Zero Waste Schools-Lake County Program. The dedicated students have helped their lunchroom achieve an approximate 90% diversion of materials from landfill.

Instead of tossing all lunch waste into the trash, students now use sorting stations with containers for liquids, recycling, compost (for all food scraps, food-soiled napkins, and lunch trays), and landfill trash. Their sorting stations also have share tables where students can put school lunch items (whole fruit and factory-sealed foods) they take but do not eat which can be used later as snacks.” Some specially trained students, designated “Zero Waste Agents” monitor cafeteria sorting stations to ensure materials are placed into appropriate bins and to reduce contamination of recycling and composting streams. Back-of-house sorting is also occurring and food service workers, custodial staff, and teachers have also been involved in training and hands-on contributions to waste reduction efforts.

To read more about this case study, see the project update on the Seven Generations Ahead web site.

Washington, IL School Works with UI Extension to Reduce Food Waste

In response to the concern expressed by students, staff, and parents, UI Extension SNAP-Education Educator Kaitlyn Streitmatter worked with Beverly Manor Junior High in Washington, IL to investigate ways to reduce food waste in the school’s cafeteria as well as increase the amount of healthy food consumed by students. A plate waste audit was conducted to determine how much of the food served to students ended up being uneaten and sent to landfill. That initial audit found 107.74 pounds (27%) of school-food served ended up as waste.

Streitmatter worked with the district’s food service director, Joan Wood, to implement an “offer vs. serve” approach in the cafeteria. “Offer vs. Serve” is a provision of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) which allows students to decline some of the offered components of a “reimbursable meal.” A “reimbursable meal” in NSLP is one which includes offering five required food components–fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or meat alternate, and fluid milk (requirements are slightly different for the SBP). This is meant to ensure that children are eating nutritionally balanced meals. Often, schools or districts participating in the NSLP and SBP believe that in order to receive reimbursement from the USDA, students MUST take all of the food components served. Of course, not all children will eat every item served by a food service program–if a school serves peaches, for example, and a child loathes peaches, then the fruit on that child’s tray is destined for the waste stream. Other factors come into play in determining whether or not a child will eat a given item, such as the seated time they have during their lunch period, how much they talk to friends at lunch as opposed to eating, how they’re feeling that day, etc. But the point is, if you serve the same things to all children in your cafeteria, without taking into account the children’s preferences, you’re creating a situation in which food waste will be higher than otherwise.

The “offer vs. serve” strategy allows schools to offer students a selection of items within a given food component group–for example, a choice of peaches, apple slices, or a banana for the fruit component. A meal is reimbursable as long as it includes a certain number of food components in minimum required amounts or serving sizes. So in a school that practices “offer vs. serve,” the child that loathes peaches might opt to instead take the apple slices she loves, and thus actually eat the fruit. This results in a “triple win”–the child gets the nutrition the food service workers intended for her, the school doesn’t waste money on food that ends up being hauled away as waste, and of course, the environment wins because less material is sent to landfill.

Streitmatter conducted training for food service staff to ensure understanding and successful implementation of the “offer vs. serve” policy. Students and school staff also received training and additional signage was posted to help guide participants. The policy was piloted with the school’s eighth grade but was adopted across the school when it proved successful.

A second plate waste study was conducted after the policy change and showed food waste dropped to 53 pounds (12.7%) across the 400 students in grades 4-8.

For more information about this case study, see “New policies reduce school lunchroom food waste” in the Sept. 27, 2019 edition of Agrinews.  You may also wish to contact Kaitlyn Streitmatter or Beverly Manor Junior High.

For more information on “offer vs. serve,” see the following resources:

Green Lunchroom Challenge Suggested Activity: Employ the principles of “offer versus serve”

Updated Offer vs Serve Guidance for the NSLP and SBP Beginning SY2015-16 from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Offer versus Serve National School Lunch Program Posters from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Cashier’s Training: Reimbursable Meals Participant’s Workbook from the Institute of Child Nutrition

For guidance on conducting a plate waste audit at your school, see:

Green Lunchroom Challenge Suggested Activity: Do a baseline lunchroom waste characterization (pre waste-free lunch day or policy implementation)

Green Lunchroom Challenge Suggested Activity: Do a follow-up lunchroom waste characterization (post waste-free lunch day or policy implementation)

Guide to Conducting Student Food Waste Audits: A Resource for Schools from the USDA, US EPA and the University of Arkansas

Food Waste Awareness Week and Workshop for Residents, Oak Park, IL

It’s Food Waste Awarenees Week in Oak Park, IL! Read more about it at

Residents are invited to a Food Waste Workshop “to learn about what is being done locally and regionally to address the problem of waste food. The workshop takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Oak Park Library. Village Sustainability Coordinator Mindy Agnew will be on hand during the event providing information about the Village’s compost program and helping residents sign up on the spot.

Register for the FREE Nov. 7th workshop at

Logo of the Village of Oak Park, IL, containing the words Oak Park with a stylized green semicircle that resembles both a tree with branches and a group of stick figures with their arms raised

CA: School District, County Public Works Department Implement Food Scrap Composting, Food Share Programs

Here’s a recent case study of food scrap composting and a “share table” project from California:

“GOLETA, Calif. – Santa Barbara County Public Works Department and Goleta Union School District implemented a food share and food scraps composting program at nine elementary schools in Goleta on Tuesday. This program will prevent thousands of pounds of fruit, milk, containers and packaged food from heading to the landfill.”

Read the full story, by Julia Nguyen, dated 10/29/2019 on KEYT-TV/KCOY-TV/KKFX-CD (Santa Barbara, Calif.) at

Case Studies of K-12 Schools Fighting Food Waste—Spring 2019

Below are a few examples of food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion efforts at K-12 schools that I’ve read about recently. Check them out, and consider emulating these efforts at your school or organization!

CA: Monica Favand Campagna shared a video created to instruct parent volunteers at Franklin Elementary in Glendale, CA on proper procedures for supervising organic waste separation during breakfast, snack, or lunch. Check out the clearly marked bins for their sharing table, where uneaten, unopened foods can be placed for use by other children. According to Monica, “CA has mandates for organic waste diversion, which apply to our school district (GUSD) – and we parents at the school (I am our school’s Green Team captain via our Parent Foundation – and we also have a Green Lunch Committee under the PTA) wanted to help them initiate a program. Our hauler, Southland Disposal, provided us with green bins and picks up once per week to compost in a commercial facility about 20 minutes away. This is a pilot program for the entire GUSD – so we are really wanting this to be successful!” Good luck and continued success!

Woman standing beside waste sorting bins in an elementary school cafeteriaStill shot from the parent volunteer instruction video from Franklin Elementary in Glendale, CA.

IL: LaSalle digs into onsite composting and slashes food waste: “LaSalle is one of several Chicago Public Schools (CPS) this past school year to engage students in environmental learning and action on a daily basis– right in their own lunchrooms. Since March 2019 when their zero waste program launched, LaSalle has reduced lunchroom landfill waste by over 50% by weight through food recovery, onsite composting, liquid diversion, and recycling.”

IL: Plainfield East High School students create a rap video to promote food scrap composting. What a great way to get fellow students thinking about waste management and learning how to sort! Will County, in partnership Organix and with some funds from ILCSWMA helped two Plainfield High Schools pilot food scrap collection and composting in Spring 2019 (see photo below, from Illinois Food Scrap Coalition Facebook post on the pilot program).Teenaged boy carrying empty milk carton and plate, preparing to deposit materials into waste sorting bins. Tables, other students, and other features of the school cafeteria are in background.

IL: Old School Montessori was among the organizations praised by the Village of Grayslake for their use of the village’s food scrap composting program. Learn more about Grayslake’s program on the Village web site:

IL: Bloomington Public Schools District 87 was among the 2019 Illinois Green Ribbon Schools nominees. Composting was noted among the efforts highlighted for District 87: “The most innovative project implemented has been a district-wide cafeteria composting and recycling initiative. Since the start of the program in 2014, the district has reduced dumpster sizes by half, preventing over 50 tons of waste from entering area landfills.” Read about efforts from Green Ribbon Schools nominees from around the country in the US Green Building Council Green Ribbon Schools highlights document.

IL: Roundout Elementary School is the first in the Seven Generations Ahead-lead Zero Waste Schools-Lake County Program. “The school uses a structure called ‘the village,’ where each student takes a role in a village department. The Rondout Public Works Department took on the zero waste program as their project. Public Works students conducted the waste audits with SGA.” Excellent example of student engagement and incorporating food waste issues into the curriculum!

IN: School district turns unused cafeteria food into frozen, take-home meals for kids. “Elkhart Community Schools teamed up with a non-profit group called Cultivate to create a pilot program that will provide weekend meals for a small group of children at Woodland Elementary, WSBT reported…As part of the pilot program, 20 kids will receive a backpack with eight individual frozen meals every Friday until the end of the school year. The meals will be made using food that cafeteria workers prepared but never served, according to WSBT. ‘Over-preparing is just part of what happens,’ said Cultivate spokesperson Jim Conklin. ‘We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out if it.’

NC: This messy school cafeteria project dives into how students eat and waste food. Another great example of student engagement in a cafeteria waste audit! “After last week’s food audit, in which students sorted and weighed food waste, liquids, disposable trays and other types of cafeteria trash, Whitewater switched to compostable paper trays this week. Working with Every Tray Counts, a nonprofit group based in Chapel Hill, the school hopes to set the stage for a full-district switch from polystyrene to paper trays, following the lead of Chapel Hill-Carborro, Durham and, most recently, Wake County Public Schools.”

Are you aware of a food waste-related program at a K-12 school elsewhere? Do you have information about a food waste prevention or reduction program at a different type of organization that you think is noteworthy? Contact me with details and/or a link to the program’s web site and I’ll consider sharing it on this blog our the Green Lunchroom Challenge social media accounts.

Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Innovation Fund Inaugural Call for Projects

Check out the Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Innovation Fund inaugural call for projects. Submit a Letter of Intent from Feb. 4 to midnight ET on March 4, 2019. Full applications will be invited by March 29; grant recipients will be notified of awards in May. Full details on who should apply and the evaluation criteria are available at the link below.

Grants will be awarded for emerging technologies and solutions focused on food waste prevention, recovery and recycling; awards will range from $25,000 to $250,000. Grant recipients will also have access to mentoring, the potential to pilot their solution with Kroger and partners, the opportunity to network with peers, and the opportunity to apply for follow-on funding.

Kroger innovation fund logo

Minneapolis Public Schools Release ‘True Food, No Waste’ Action Plan

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) have recently released a plan to reduce costs and food waste in school cafeterias and kitchens.  As reported by JoAnne Berkenkamp and Jonathan Bloom on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) blog,

The school district today released a new “True Food, No Waste” action plan for curtailing wasted food in school cafeterias and kitchens…Developed in concert with NRDC and consultant Jonathan Bloom, the district’s plan offers an innovative model for schools around the country to follow. It also highlights an important area of opportunity for city governments as they commit to tackling wasted food in their communities.’

The plan includes a focus on ‘fresh food prepared in on-site kitchens,” and follows the EPA Food Waste Reduction hierarchy, incorporating plans for food waste prevention, diverting surplus food for human consumption, and diverting food scraps from landfill through composting.

You can read the entire NRDC blog post at

The “True Food, No Waste” Plan is available at

Cover of MPS plan

Universities Create Biodiesel from Waste Cooking Oil

A recent update from Engineers for a Sustainable World on student projects from 2018 included a note on the University of British Columbia Campus Biodiesel project. See According to that synopsis, “The campus biodiesel project seeks to produce biodiesel from waste cooking oil produced on UBC campus. Cooking oil can be collected from the dining halls of first year residence, in partnership with UBC food services. ESW has access to use a reactor system in the Chemical and Biological Engineering building with the capacity to produce 60 L batches. There is also a fuel dispensing system in the equipment yard of the building. The goal of the project is to produce batches of biodiesel with reliable quality to be used by diesel powered vehicles in fleet services.”

More information on the UBC campus biodiesel production project can be found on the Engineers for a Sustainable World UBC web site at

This project is similar to the Illinois Biodiesel Initiative (IBI), which evolved from an Engineers Without Borders project on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. See and for further information on that project.

Similar projects have also been coordinated with high school students converting waste cooking oil from K-12 school food service operations for use in district school buses. See the archived suggested activity “Divert or create biodiesel from waste cooking oil” document from the original Green Lunchroom Challenge K-12 pledge program for more information and inspiration for incorporating such an activity, or information about it, into K-12 lesson plans.

Has your college, university, or high school/school district diverted used cooking oil to fuel in a similar fashion? Consider sharing a link to a site describing your efforts or a brief description of your project in the comments section of this post.

Growing Healthy People Brings Year-Round Gardening to IL Schools

In the 12/14/18 online edition of the Daily Herald, Paula A. Lubenow reports on Growing Healthy People, a non-profit organization which has “created year-round gardening programs at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Waukegan, Lake Forest Country Day School and Bowen Park Urban Ag Lab in Waukegan. The organization utilizes cutting edge gardening technology including hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics in greenhouses to allow students to grow food year-round during the entire academic school year. The students at Jefferson Middle School also contribute their produce to the Roberti Community House and food pantries in the Waukegan area. Students learn valuable life skills through these gardening programs: how to grow their own food; the importance of healthy food and good nutrition; and about careers in horticulture.” Read the full article at

There are three suggested activities related to school gardens which were part of the original Green Lunchroom Challenge voluntary pledge program for K-12 schools (out of which this blog began). Within the “Food Sourcing” category, participants in that pledge program could earn points by establishing an on-site garden to provide fresh seasonal produce on demand, expanding an existing on-site garden, or involving students in the maintenance of a school garden. Though the pledge program has ended, the suggested activity pages are still great guides to incorporating school gardens into your food waste reduction and prevention strategies in K-12 food service operations.

The practices taught through the Growing Healthy People programs would be excellent for schools interested in starting or expanding their school gardens, and they’re proven effective in student involvement. We applaud Growing Healthy People and the three schools in Waukegan, IL mentioned in the Daily Herald article for their efforts!

To learn more about Growing Healthy People, check out their Facebook page at

Growing Healthy People logo


Webinar Jan. 15 on Food Recovery and Composting in Hospitals

Register today for the Seven Generations Ahead webinar on hospital food recovery and composting, scheduled for Tuesday, January 15, 2019 from 10:00 to 11:30 AM CST.  Speakers will include:

  • Jen Nelson, Senior Program Manager, Seven Generations Ahead (MODERATOR)
  • Jennifer M Grenier DNP, RN-BC, Director of Nursing Medical/Surgical Unit and Acute In-Patient Rehab Hospital at Rush University Medical Center
  • Joe Iosbaker, Recycling Coordinator, Office of Sustainability, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Cynthia Vasquez, Director of Volunteer Services and PlanItGreen Core Team representative for Rush Oak Park Hospital

Register online at

Image listing name of webinar, time and date