More than half of the waste schools send to landfills could be prevented, according to a school waste study released on Jan. 11 by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Food was identified as one of the top items thrown away.

The study – “No Time to Waste: An Analysis of the Material Generated, Discarded and Recovered at South Carolina’s Public Schools” – was designed to provide a characterization of the solid waste generated throughout one day at six public schools in South Carolina. The analysis includes the amount of waste (by weight), type of waste, how the waste was managed (sent to the landfill, recycled, donated or composted) and the level of contamination (items that can’t be recycled) in school recycling containers.

“Food is the number one item Americans throw away at home, and our study reinforces that the same is true at our schools,” said Myra Reece, director of DHEC’s Environmental Affairs. “Schools have a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership and environmental responsibility for young people, which is why our study also provides recommendations and tools schools can use to evaluate their current practices and implement steps to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills.”

DHEC has partnered with the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) to address food waste and help with implementing waste-reduction strategies like share tables (the practice of students placing unopened food and drinks in an area for other students to have at no cost) and “Offer Versus Serve,” which allows students to decline some of the food they’re offered.

“This study creates an excellent opportunity for South Carolina’s school nutrition programs to evaluate their waste for the advancement of their programs as well as the protection of the environment,” said Ronald Jones, director of SCDE’s Office of Health and Nutrition.

Key takeaways from the food waste study include:

  • The student per capita waste generation ranged from a half pound to one pound. This means, at a minimum, schools generate 375,000 pounds of waste every school day. Recommendations to address this include improving signage to reduce contamination in current recycling programs and establishing a reuse area for supplies.
  • Five of the six schools that participated in the study could have diverted more than half of the waste sent to the landfill through prevention, recycling, donation or composting. Four of the schools could have diverted more than 60%. Recommendations for this issue include upgrading current recycling programs and expanding into commercial composting programs.
  • Unwanted food accounted for 32% to 55% of the waste the six schools generated. Recommendations include implementing Smarter Lunchrooms Movement strategies, share tables and OVS.

This comprehensive food waste study was conducted by DHEC’s Office of Solid Waste Reduction & Recycling, which helps local governments, schools and universities develop solid waste management plans that reduce the amount of waste produced in South Carolina.

To view the complete school waste study, visit scdhec.gov/2019SchoolWasteStudy. To learn more about recycling and waste reduction, visit scdhec.gov/recycling.