HomeEnvironmentEfforts arise to combat excessive food waste on campus

Efforts arise to combat excessive food waste on campus

Published Dec. 15, 2021


It is no secret at Carmel High School that there is a food waste issue. After lunch, the sight of an overflowing trash can or empty milk cartons scattered throughout the amphitheater is not uncommon. While food waste management has always been a problem after meal times on campus, with the addition of free meals this school year, trash levels have risen, while efforts led by the CHS Environmental Club are being made to combat the issue. 

A recent Environmental Club food audit completed Nov. 11 found that there was a total of 138.15 pounds of trash after just one lunch, 52.6 pounds of that being just wasted food. To conduct the audit, students from the club along with Liz Hall, a recycling representative from Waste Management, set up three food sorting stations around campus for one lunch period and then weighed all material after. 

“I definitely think that a big opportunity for the school is to at least begin rolling out a food collection program for the kitchen,” Hall says. “They had a 42-pound bag of produce trimmings at the end of the day.”

The week before Thanksgiving break, the environmental clubs from CHS and Carmel Middle School presented information about the current issues on their respective campuses to the school board by displaying information found during their waste audits and keeping the board mindful of the environmental values of the community. 

CHS junior Heather Albiol led the conversation. 

“What’s happening right now is [the board is] starting to really listen to students and get involved in environmental sustainability, which is a great first step,” Albiol says. “We’ve been wanting that for a while and have been pushed off in the past.” 

When SB1383, a new composting law, goes into effect at the start of 2022, there should be more options for students to responsibly dispose of unwanted food. Presently, the compost bins at the school are covered because there is no system in place to deal with it. 

“Of the waste that we generate, basically three quarters of it is compostable,” CHS Environmental Club adviser Jason Maas-Baldwin notes.

(graphic by HEATHER ALBIOL)

Hall mentions that creating a student survey of foods that they can choose and are within the school budget could help reduce uneaten food being thrown away if possible. 

Free school lunches started during the 2020-21 school year when students came back on campus during the spring. California Gov. Gavin Newsom stated at the beginning of this school year that giving out two free school lunches a day would stay a permanent practice throughout the state. 

Currently, the cafeteria reports serving about 300 meals at both break and lunch every day, according to a meal count conducted in the beginning of November, which means that about 36% of the 850 students at CHS are being fed through CUSD. 

According to Sue Brooks, the head of food services for Carmel Unified School District, the cafeteria is required to hand out three meal components, one a fruit or vegetable, to each student in line to get food, but insist on offering five components total. During the morning break, four components must be offered, with three needing to be taken, including the fruit or vegetable.

“We tried starting sharing tables where students can get rid of the fruit that they are required to get so that we can take it back and re-wash it,” Brooks adds. 

As for altering the menu, that problem is bigger than the school district.  

“I try to get food items on the menu that students like and would like to serve more food that they like,” Brooks explains, “but the supply chain issue and other COVID-19 related factors are preventing that.” 

Students who frequently eat school lunches attribute the waste to lack of options, but also lack of student accountability. 

“Food waste on campus got bad the same way graffiti on campus got really bad,” senior Olivea Wood says. “It’s just like new people on campus don’t respect a lot of the stuff that the school has to offer.” 

Carmel High’s Environmental Club hopes that food waste will decrease soon with the implementation of SB1383 and that the CUSD board will make school-wide environmental concerns an agenda item.

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