The University of Maine aims to get kids thinking about food waste.
To that end, it's launching a pilot program at four elementary schools in its state. The School Cafeteria Food Waste Study will be run by UMaine's Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and seek to address food waste and food insecurity.
Focusing on elementary schoolers provides the unique opportunity of changing behavior at a young age, according to Susanne Lee, faculty fellow at the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and leader of the study.
“By focusing specifically on elementary schools, we hope to teach these young students positive food waste behaviors that will continue through their middle and high school years,” said Lee in a statement. “We also hope that these young influencers will bring those positive food waste behaviors into their homes.”
The two-month study will begin on Monday, kicking off with education assemblies that use games and activities to keep students engaged, according to a press release.
Interventions tested will include signage, a “share basket” where students can return packaged items they don’t eat during mealtimes, and a sorting station to separate compostable food from trash.
“Our school feels very fortunate to be a part of the study,” said Morgan Therriault, foodservice director at Sebago Elementary, in a statement. “Working together with the UMaine Mitchell Center will broaden our ability to teach students about the harmful economic, social and environmental impact of wasted food, a much-needed elementary school topic.”
Throughout the pilot, researchers will track daily food waste and conduct pre- and post-study food waste audits to measure the interventions' impact.
“Collecting daily food waste data is incredibly important for our team to assess whether our solutions to reduce food waste are actually working," said Eddie Nachamie, the Mitchell Center student intern in charge of the School Food Waste Study. "In addition, the students are also very excited to see how they are doing, so we will use the data to create a fun and motivational feedback loop for them as well.”
The study is supported by a sustainability seed grant from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. It was developed through collaboration with the state's Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Environmental Protection.