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Audit shows lunches go to waste in school cafeterias

This photo shows all the uneaten food thrown away by Franklin Middle School students on Tuesday. (Michelle Manchir/Tribune)

This photo shows all the uneaten food thrown away by Franklin Middle School students on Tuesday. (Michelle Manchir/Tribune)

The bananas, bags of nuts and peanut butter sandwiches looked good enough to eat arranged on a table in the Franklin Middle School cafeteria on Tuesday, but the spread of fruits and snacks had been picked out of a trash can just minutes before.

Volunteers from a Glen Ellyn environmental group paired with the Wheaton school’s nutrition and lunch advisory club, the Chow Hounds, to conduct a waste audit at the school’s lunchroom on Tuesday.

Students were asked to sort their lunch garbage into liquids, uneaten foods, partially eaten foods, landfill waste and recyclables. After all the students ate, the garbage in each can was weighed separately as away to show students just how much is thrown away. (Photos: Peek at cafeteria trash)

The results may not thrill the parents carefully packing ham sandwiches and yogurt cups for their little ones each day. About 26.5 pounds of the students’ 133 pounds of trash from lunch Tuesday – the garbage collected from almost 800 students — included whole, uneaten foods. Goldfish crackers, apples and many sandwiches were among the abandoned meals.

The figure is not so astounding compared to the uneaten foods that pile up at other schools  the SCARCE group audits, said Heather Goudreau, an environmental educator with School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education, or SCARCE. The group routinely performs the audits in area schools, and it’s common to see a table full of uneaten lunches after the audits are complete.

“I guarantee most parents that pack a sandwich don’t know that their kid is throwing it in the garbage,” Goudreau said. “Everybody’s losing when someone throws away a whole sandwich.”

A student group that serves as a lunchroom advisory team for the school co-hosted the audit on Tuesday. Lois Davisson, a teacher at the school and sponsor of the club, said the audit is one way to help students and staff step up recycling efforts — just one of many of these types of efforts championed by the club.

The 17-student group helped bring a salad bar to the lunchroom last year, and two years ago they were instrumental in getting the school’s Styrofoam lunch plates replaced with washable trays.

“Students just need to be more aware in general of their consumer habits. What they take in and what will happen with what they don’t use,” Davisson said.

Eighth-grader Shelley Pedicini, a member of the group, thinks seeing the waste at the end of the lunchroom makes an impact, even for her.

“It kind of made me feel like I should eat more and not waste any more food,” Pedicini said.

Steve Kenny, a volunteer for SCARCE who assisted with the audit, said the studies sometimes help lunch staff and parents realize what kids aren’t eating. He pulled out an unopened granola bar and cup of yogurt as examples.

“One student, she just threw away her whole lunch,” Kenny said. “We have huge sandwiches that the parents think the kids are eating, and they’re not.”

Kenny also said the audits are meant as a way to encourage composting.

While the Wheaton  school recycles items daily, it does not compost biodegradable garbage, which Goudreau said would help eliminate a lot of the impact the school is having on landfills.

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