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  • Writer's pictureDejah Dean

School food waste is hurting cows and us every year

Updated: Aug 27

By Dejah Dean, Clarion Staff Reporter

According to Sacramento County Waste Management and Recycling, food waste is the largest component of our waste stream – not just in schools, but in general. That means food waste totals more than metal, packaging, electronic waste, construction, and much more. As Calrecycle, California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, stated, half of school waste in California consists of organic products. Most of it ends up in landfills where it breaks down and produces harmful greenhouse gasses, which are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. About 19.4 gallons of milk are thrown every school year, which equals about 373 cups of milk – or a couple cows – wasted for no reason every year.


Calrecycle reported that students in California schools and universities waste 562,442 tons of cafeteria food and other products just in California. A New World Wildlife Fund estimates about 530,000 tons of school food waste in the United States. Penn State University says students at school waste over 50% of their plate. Californians Against waste says 15% of food wasted in the U.S. could feed 25 million Americans a year.


In 2018, $600 million was used to manage food waste from students in the United States and in December 2019, it cost $9.7 million. The question is, was school food waste reduced, or was less money used for the same cause? The 2018 farm bill originally covered fundings for food waste reduction and pledged to significantly decrease food waste percentages by mid 2026. The yearly farm bill is a bill that controls all things food and agriculture under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Although we can’t ever completely get rid of food waste, there are ways to make use of the waste and control it. Some things we could do include the following.

  • Set up a share table for collecting packaged or pre-portioned items that aren’t going to be consumed for donation.

  • Reach out to non-profit organizations to help with donating leftover food.

  • Compost waste for school gardens.

  • Use separate waste bins for recycling, food donations, compost, and trash.

A guide from Sacramento County for composting food waste at home. Image from the SacGreenTeam website (

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