Food Waste Curriculum from IL EPA, UI MSTE, Now Available Online

A previous guest post by Amanda Price described her experiences teaching a new food waste curriculum for fifth and sixth-graders developed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE). The curriculum is now available online. Visit https://pathways.mste.illinois.edu/curriculum/food-waste to access the unit, an associated teacher guide, the material and supply list, student activity sheets, and other related resources.

Screenshot from the food waste unit on the Environmental Pathways web site.

Illinois EPA Pilots New Food Waste Curriculum in Springfield Schools

The following post was written by Amanda Price. We’re grateful to her for sharing her experiences teaching the new food waste curriculum to IL students and thrilled to hear about students inspired to take action! All photos are courtesy of Amanda Price.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE) to create a two-week food waste curriculum unit for fifth and sixth-grade educators. The unit is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and will be free and available online at the end of May 2020. It will be housed with the first unit created by MSTE and Illinois EPA on surface water and algae on the Environmental Pathways website: https://pathways.mste.illinois.edu/.

Classroom image of Amanda Price presenting food waste unit to elementary students seated at desksAmanda Price piloted the unit in two fifth grade science classes at Butler Elementary and Sandburg Elementary February-March 2020. Both schools are located in Springfield, IL. Amanda works as a Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) in the offices of Environmental Education and Community Relations at Illinois EPA. The GPSI program places University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) graduate students in state agency internships in for the duration of their studies. Amanda will earn a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences this May 2020. She taught the unit as part of her capstone graduate project.

The food waste unit follows the NGSS investigative storyline model that is Three boys gather around the jar they are working on and smile at the cameradriven by student questions. It teaches students the importance of food waste reduction, landfill diversion, and composting as part of a circular food system. Students create “landfills in a jar” with materials given to them with the goal of protecting the sand, or “groundwater,” at the bottom of the jar. Students also create “compost in a jar” using fresh food scraps and other compostable materials. Students monitor their jars throughout the unit and record scientific data such as temperature and mass. They learn how bacteria act as decomposers. The unit also incorporates map-reading and asks students to think critically about the pros and cons of choosing space for new landfill construction.

Elementary students sorting food waste in a school cafeteriaThe main hands-on activity in the unit is a food waste audit, which can be performed at various scales. Students use data from the audit to calculate the estimated food wasted per person, during the school year, etc. Students end the unit by creating a community awareness or action plan to inform their community or advocate for change. A few students at Butler Elementary wrote a letter to the principal asking him to install a clock in the cafeteria so students could track how much time they had to eat. The principal took swift action and ordered the clock.

Illinois EPA looks forward to sharing the free curriculum with both formal and informal educators around the state. The unit helps increase students’ environmental awareness and stewardship and is best paired with action to reduce waste in the school.

Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools now available for download

This post originally appeared on the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Blog on April 13, 2020. 

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the Wasted Food Action Alliance is pleased to announce the release of the Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools. Though schools throughout the state are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this toolkit will allow districts and food service staff members to make plans for food waste reduction efforts when schools are able to welcome back students and staff in person.

The Wasted Food Action Alliance is a diverse set of organizations helping build a unified approach towards reducing wasted food and leveraging it to benefit our region. Its mission is to develop a working strategy and action platform that makes Illinois a leader in reducing wasted food by connecting and building on current wasted food initiatives, education, and policy in unified ways that holistically promote source reduction; food recovery for hunger relief and other uses; and recovery of food scraps for composting and creating healthy soil.

Joy Scrogum, a member of ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), is part of the Wasted Food Action Alliance subcommittee which developed the school food waste reduction toolkit. Joy coordinated ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge project, and continues to work on food waste prevention and reduction through TAP’s work with clients, the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, and related local and regional projects. The Wasted Food Action Alliance school toolkit subcommittee was lead by Seven Generations Ahead.

Cover of Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois SchoolsWhat’s the problem with food waste in schools?

Over 7 billion school meals are served each year in the United States. Much of this food, however, is currently feeding landfills instead of nourishing students. This is while one in six children is food insecure. When food is landfilled, not only are its nutrients lost, so are all the energy, water, and labor that went into producing, transporting, and preparing it. K-12 schools have a unique role in teaching students to value food instead of wasting it.

The Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools can help.

The Toolkit is a comprehensive resource that provides all schools, no matter their size or location, the tools to tackle the issue of wasted food. It identifies the main sources of wasted food and offers strategies for food waste prevention, recovery and redistribution, composting, education and engagement, and celebrating success. A variety of solutions are shared–from easy and quick to implement to longer term and more resource intensive.

The Toolkit’s easy to use format allows you to jump in to find the strategies that work for your school. Each section includes case studies that highlight inspirational efforts to reduce food waste in schools across Illinois and provides guidance on:

Measuring food waste

  • Waste audit guides
  • How to determine what to audit in your lunchroom and kitchen
  • Food waste tracking in kitchens
  • Analyzing waste audit data

Preventing food waste

  • Sourcing food from school gardens and local farms to encourage consumption of healthy foods
  • Menu planning and food preparation
  • Preventing food waste at the serving line, including Offer versus Serve

Recovering and redistributing surplus food

  • Policies and laws regarding share tables and the redistribution of food (including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that supports the donation of recovered food)
  • How to set up and operate a share table
  • Redistribution of surplus food within a school
  • Donation of surplus food to an outside organization or in-school food pantry

Composting food scraps

  • The environmental benefits of composting
  • Onsite composting
  • Offsite commercial composting
  • How to get started composting in your lunchroom

Educating and engaging the school community

  • Hands-on classroom or service learning projects
  • Curricula and lessons about food and food waste
  • Teaching tools and resources

Communicating and celebrating success

  • Communications within school community
  • Communications with the wider community
  • Get recognized with programs such as Green Ribbon Schools and the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The toolkit is available on the Wasted Food Action Alliance web site.

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: https://www.villageofgrayslake.com/533/Food-Scraps-Composting.

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.