By Kelly Shilhanek, School Based Nutrition Educator
Earlier in May, Concord students enthusiastically volunteered their stomachs and mouths to take part in the How Long Can We Go? No-Waste challenge. The premise was to try to reduce fruit and vegetable waste among each grade level over the course of the week, in order to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption and raise awareness about the environmental impacts associated with food waste. Besides individually challenging students to clear their plates for the sake of their bodies and the earth, the grade with the lowest amount of waste per student was awarded a smoothie party at the end of the week.
The 5th grade Green Team was an instrumental part of helping the contest run smoothly. Each lunch, two 5th graders would help students sort their refuse and weigh the contents of our fruit and vegetable waste bucket. Then, we used a bar graph to illustrate our data in the cafeteria. Students got really excited about the graphs—they reminded me of live-stream coverage of a sporting event, except this was confined to roughly 400 viewers, who were all participants as well. Though there were a few hiccups—allegations of “sabotage” against the 5th graders, and reports that a few students ate so quickly that they had to go to the nurse’s office—the majority of students were much more mindful about consuming the fruits and vegetables they chose from the salad bar. Though this is not backed up by data, I saw a substantially greater number of empty trays last week at lunchtime than usual.
When Thursday came to a close, the numbers came in—Concord students had reduced their fruit and vegetable waste by 30% from Tuesday to Thursday, and the fifth graders won a smoothie party with a mere 0.05 pounds of waste per student per day (Kindergarteners, in comparison, weighed in at 0.13 pounds/student each day). However, the total numbers perhaps tell a different story—even with the challenge, 132.5 pounds of fruits and vegetables were wasted in four days. It is important to continue to raise awareness about food waste to students and their families because so much of the food in our system—whether in schools, hospitals, restaurants, or even your fridge—end up in compost or the land fill, instead of in our stomachs. Nice work Concord, but let’s continue our efforts!