Local Students Study Impact of Food Waste on Climate Change

by Colby Eaton

Each day, our Earth’s climate is changing—slowly, but surely. Unexpectedly, one of the main reasons is due to food waste. Food waste is responsible for 8 percent of global carbon emissions. According to the nonprofit organization Project Drawdown, it is ranked as the No. 3 solution to combat climate change. If everyone views their individual impact on the earth as small, we will not address climate change. We can start to reflect locally and admit that all of us have improvements to make.

On January 30th, our ninth grade Integrated Environmental Science class at Woodstock Union High School Middle School, WUHSMS, took a deeper look at how our school handles food waste. Through a waste audit, we made observations and recorded data. Compost bins are set up all around the school, thanks to the awesome work by Woodstock’s very own Earth Beat. This year, a waste sorting station was installed near the senior solarium to reduce food waste. These steps show that—although WUHSMS is on the right track to reduce food waste— there are still opportunities for improvement.

We found eight pounds of compostable material in the trash, which adds up to 1,440 pounds per year. That number should be zero. When food decomposes in landfills, the process releases methane, a carbon-based gas (CH4) that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. We also found 80 items in the trash that should have been recycled. When items are recycled, the material is reused rather than wasted. According to the website Popular Science, plastic never actually biodegrades; it only breaks down into separate plastic molecules. We also found 50 plastic utensils in the trash. That is about 9,000 plastic utensils each academic year. This surprised a lot of students, including myself. At WUHSMS, there is an option to either use a metal or a plastic utensil. Our data proved a lot of work needs to be done in order to save our Earth.

We also observed that our cafeteria workers have no way of telling how many people will order lunch per day. One idea to minimize food waste from leftover meals would be to take a food count in the morning. When students grab their Chromebooks, a lunch sign- up sheet could be placed on the top of the Chromebook cart. If someone is ordering lunch, they would write a check by their name and specify their portion size to inform cafeteria personnel. The proposed procedure would help cut down food waste from leftover food at WUHSMS, ultimately combating the food waste dilemma that is upon our world today.

Everyone needs to take part in eliminating food waste, a main cause of climate change. Climate change may not be everyone’s fault, but it is now all of our responsibility to stop it. Climate change solutions start out locally with the help from schools, such as WUHSMS, and the students who reside there. Everyone needs to compost more, recycle more, waste less and reuse more to combat the climate change dilemma among us today.

Do just one thing:

Read a book about the connection between food, diet and climate change, such as: “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It” by Anna Lappé, or “Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change” by John J. Mandyck and Eric B. Schultz.


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