On a daily basis, the refectory rotates through four different lunch groups within a three-hour span. Over 1,300 students, as well as faculty and staff, visit Norfolk Academy's refectory during the day. Refectory personnel see these individuals fill their plates and consume their food prior to student waiters collecting the trash and compost to deposit in the different receptacles. The amount of food that was recently found in the compost – and sometimes trash – was a clear indicator that not everyone grasped the amount of food intake their bodies could handle.
Armed with this knowledge, Ms. Tanya Hipp, dining services director for Meriwether Godsey at Norfolk Academy, decided to host a “Weigh the Waste” compost project. The project was two-fold: the first objective was to raise awareness of food waste on both a national level and within our school. A second objective aimed at improving composting efforts by helping students decipher which items were categorized as compost and those that were strictly trash.
Following lunch, Ms. Hipp weighed the plate with food consolidated from each table and logged the numbers. Then, when she changed out the trash and compost bags between lunches, a staff member in the refectory - who had previously recorded his weight - would stand on a scale while holding the bags. The numbers were documented and factored into the overall number of compost and trash recorded during that lunch.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations “roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted.” In an email to the school’s faculty and staff, Ms. Hipp reported that the average waste from 300 people at lunch produces 0.02 pounds per meal, per person, equating to six pounds per lunch for 300 people.
How did this compare to the rates in Norfolk Academy’s refectory? The school’s average after the first measurement was recorded in late February was 0.13 pounds per person, per meal, for a total of 176.8 pounds. However, by the next weigh-in a few days later, each lunch had improved its record. First lunch improved by 8.2 pounds, second lunch by 1 pound, third lunch by 4.4 pounds, and fourth lunch by 9.8 pounds.
“This was a great learning tool for the students,” said Ms. Hipp. “I believed it helped raise awareness for food waste at their table. It also gave them a better understanding of portions and knowing what they can and will consume.”
Ms. Hipp also noted that there was an uptick in “proper compost, trash, and recycle efforts” as she did not find any plates or utensils in the compost. She plans on conducting a couple of “surprise” weigh-ins before the end of the school year to remind students to make a conscious effort when selecting their portions and throwing out scraps. She hopes this will eventually give them enough time to create good habits and serve as continued awareness to improving our school’s food waste numbers.