An estimated 530,000 tons of food is wasted each year at school cafeterias, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The nonprofit evaluated post-service food waste in 46 schools in eight states across the country over a six-month period and found that participating schools wasted an average of 39.2 pounds of food and 19.4 cartons of milk per student per year.
Using that sample data, the WWF estimates that food waste in schools across the country could be as large as 530,000 tons and could cost as much as $1.7 billion each school year.
The sample schools also participated in a four-to-six-week audit period during which students, teachers and staff measured how much waste they produced. All schools saw an average reduction of food waste by 3% from the first to last audit.
The WWF believes that if all the schools in the National School Lunch Program reduced their waste by an average of 3%, they could save an estimated $52 million each year.