Project Title: Green Lunchroom Challenge
Sectors: K-12 schools (primary original sector targeted), Higher Education, Institutions (any with on-site food service)
Location: Illinois (primary focus); United States (Beyond IL)
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization
Background: According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represented 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounted for 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the US — yet, 40 percent of food in the US went uneaten. According to Feeding America, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.* Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and an opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.
Funded by US EPA Region 5, this project focused on food waste prevention and reduction at K-12 schools.
*See the second edition (2017) of the NRDC “Wasted” report at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pdf for more recent statistics. See https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/ for more recent statistics related to US food insecurity.
Approach: Launched in 2015, the Green Lunchroom Challenge (GLC) was a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their foodservice operations. By registering, participants were accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The GLC website provided suggested activities that ranged in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants were not required to complete activities, but with each activity that was completed successfully, they earned points toward recognition at different “levels of accomplishment” (Bronze: 250-500 points; Silver: 501-1000 points; Gold: 1001-1900 points; Platinum: 1901 or more points).
In addition to typical activities related to food preparation, presentation, and waste disposal, schools could also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Links to archived suggested activities are available at https://green-lunchroom.istc.illinois.edu/k-12-schools/suggested-activites/. Participants that achieved different levels of accomplishment are highlighted on the GLC website and received certificates for on-site display. TAP staff members also provided comments and recommendations for further improvement to participants based on activity documentation submitted.
A kickoff workshop/training session was held at ISTC headquarters in Champaign, IL on September 17, 2015. This session provided an overview of the GLC, presentations on relevant tools and programs, and a group discussion of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools. A free school food service training session was also presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of school food. The presentations and training were videotaped to enable schools unable to attend, or which learned of the GLC after the kickoff, to benefit from the information shared. Presenters in addition to Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners included: Joy Scrogum, ISTC; Susan Vescovi, US EPA Region 5; Kelly Boeger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Housing Dining Services, and Raj Karmani, Zero Percent. Throughout the project period (for the US EPA grant), TAP hosted webinars for participants on subjects such as food donation for schools, USDA’s “Smarter Lunchrooms” concepts and food waste reduction, commercial composting services available to schools, school gardening and on-site composting, and case studies of outreach on food waste prevention and reduction with schools.
Additionally, TAP partnered with the Springfield [IL] Public Schools (SPS) to assess the opportunities for food waste reduction and diversion. This hands-on assessment provided insight into the barriers and opportunities in implementing the activities included in the Green Lunchroom Challenge.
Results: By the time the project funding ceased, 27 IL schools, three IL school districts, and two “other” organizations (an elementary school in New Jersey and the DeKalb County [IL] Health Department) had signed up to participate in the GLC voluntary pledge program (see the archived participant list). Although funding for the project ended in December 2016, TAP continues to share resources via the GLC website blog to assist any institution or organization with on-site foodservice operations with food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion.
- Green Lunchroom Challenge (a topical blog that continues to be updated and is not exclusively focused on K-12 schools, but offers resources for any organization with on-site food service)
- Recycling and Waste Reduction Opportunity Assessment: Springfield [IL] Public Schools District 186. This lunchroom waste assessment was conducted by TAP at three elementary schools in the district.
- Composting and Waste-Free Lunches at Western Trails Elementary School, Carol Stream, IL (submitted as part of participant activity documentation)
- Archived webinars and training materials (descriptions and links to slides and recordings)
- Green Lunchroom Challenge collection (archived materials from the US EPA-funded project in the Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship, IDEALS)
- Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools (Released in April 2020, this is a project of the Wasted Food Action Alliance and spearheaded by Seven Generations Ahead in collaboration with partners from the Wasted Food Action Alliance, including TAP’s Joy Scrogum. Lessons learned from the GLC informed the creation of this toolkit.)
Other projects with this client (US EPA):