Food Waste in the Education Sector

That’s not even considering the impact on the environment. The waste generated has to be transported and disposed of. With more waste, more vehicles are required to carry it off, compounding the emissions generated in the process. And, if it is not collected separately, it goes into landfills, where it generates greenhouse gases.

Considering that it can be such a problem, what can the education sector do to reduce food waste? We shall discuss that in this post.

But first, how much food waste does the education sector generate?

Food waste statistics in the education sector

In 2011, the Waste Resources and Allocation Programme (WRAP) published a study that discussed food waste in UK schools. It was found that the education sector generated around 80,000 tonnes of food waste, costing around £250,000.

Primary schools wasted 55,408 tonnes, while secondary schools wasted 24,974 tonnes. The problem was almost 77% of this waste was avoidable.

Compared to the almost 10 million tonnes of total food waste generated annually, 80,000 tonnes might not seem like a huge amount. However, food waste from the education sector comprises about 13% of non-household food waste. 

Additionally, the Environment Act 2021 stresses resource efficiency and has led to the Government passing legislation to recycle food waste by March 2025. So, the education sector must make changes to reduce the amount of food that is thrown out.

Of course, some food waste is unavoidable. Children can be picky eaters. And, certain parts of fruit, vegetables, and meat are inedible. Also, with catering on the premises, fats, oils, and grease (FOG) waste are also an issue and need to be disposed of responsibly.

However, there are certain measures that the education sector can take to reduce the food waste it generates.

What can schools do to reduce food waste?

Food waste reduction activities can be broken down into analysis, planning, and management. The first step is to measure and analyse the wastage. Once the cause for the waste has been identified, plans should be put in place to manage that reason. 

1. Monitor what gets wasted the most

Part of analysing the reasons for food waste is to monitor what gets wasted the most. Is it something most students don’t like? Is it because of the portion size?

Finding out what gets thrown out the most and why can be extremely useful when planning the menu. This can be easily done if you use a menu and ingredient planning software that offers analytics. 

2. Create appealing yet smart menus

Once you’ve identified what to avoid, you can plan a menu that most, if not all, students would enjoy. You may also have to get smart with the ingredients so that you can use them in more than one dish or over the week. You may also want to plan your week’s meals in a way that food that will go off quicker is used first.

Another feature of this smart menu could be customisable options instead of a fixed meal. That way, students would get the option of not taking items they don’t or won’t eat.  For example, if the meal comes with pudding and a student doesn’t want any, they are more likely to waste it. Give them the option to remove that item when they collect their meal.

3. Allow students to pre-order from the menu

If your school have food pre-prepared and students are compelled to eat what’s served, you are more likely to get food thrown out. If you have picky eaters who don’t like what’s served, they will either not take their portion or take it and leave it on their plates.

Instead of planning a meal that everyone has to eat, you could reduce food waste by allowing students to pre-order from a smart menu. Combined with the smart menu, pre-orders enable students to take ownership of what they want and what they don’t.  That way, they are less likely to be “surprised” by what’s being served. And, you will have a better idea of what everyone wants to have for lunch. That, in turn, will lead to less food being left on plates.

4. Speed up queues at lunch

Allowing students to pre-order will also help in speeding up queues at lunch.  Why should that be a consideration? Because longer queues mean a noisy, less appetising environment. It also means that students at the end of the queue get less time to eat.

By speeding up the queue, you create a less chaotic mealtime environment and give students time to eat their food.

5. Manage portion sizes

Another way to get students to finish what’s on their plates is by letting them control their portion sizes. Not everyone eats the same amount, so by allowing each individual to pick from different meal sizes, you will be able to ensure satiated children who don’t waste food.

6. Get students involved

A very powerful way of getting students invested in managing food waste is by involving them in the process. Explain the situation to them and listen to their ideas. If the solutions you implement have come from the children, they would be much keener to see the ideas succeed.

7. Dewatering food waste

Like we said earlier, some waste is inevitable, even with extreme management and planning. In order to reduce that waste, so it is less of a cost, you have the option of dewatering it. 

Dewatering is the process of dehydrating the waste mass, which can reduce its volume by up to 80% and weight by around 50%. While this does not affect the cost of food waste, it can affect the cost of disposing of it. Due to the reduced volume and weight, it would take fewer vehicles to transport. That would mitigate your expenses to some degree. 

8. Recycling

Food waste recycling can take two forms—composting and anaerobic digestion. If your education facility does not have a composting programme, you could start one to help reduce your food waste. This is a great way of closing the loop, where food from the soil is converted to food for the soil.

Not all food items can be composted. However, they can all be anaerobically digested. What’s more, anaerobic digestion (AD) is an environmentally friendly way of recycling food waste that produces fuel and fertiliser (as opposed to just a fertiliser you’d get with composting). 

The AD process uses special bacteria that “eat” the waste in controlled conditions, releasing Methane (CH4) as a by-product. The CH4 is trapped and collected, preventing it from making its way into the atmosphere, and makes an excellent biofuel. The remaining material is spread in fields as a nutrient-rich biofertiliser.


If you decide to go down the AD route, then partnering with a waste collector who supports the sustainable recycling of food waste through the AD process is the ideal way, and it takes the stress out of waste management. Our comprehensive services include helping with the collection as well as managing FOG waste across a number of locations across the country. 

If you want to learn more about how we can help your education facility manage its waste, get in touch with us.

Food Waste Management

If you’d like to talk to us about your food waste or waste cooking oil collection from commercial premises over the coming weeks, then please get in touch with a member of the team..

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