As the IWRC opened into the beginning stages of the Iowa Rural Communities Food Waste Reduction Project, we were taking a new and exciting new step in the realm of food waste reduction. The idea of working with whole communities as opposed to a single entity is a very positive step in our mission to reduce unnecessary waste in Iowa.
The Iowa Rural Communities Food Waste Reduction Project, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, gave the IWRC the wonderful opportunity to work with four communities throughout Iowa: Postville, Chariton, Lamoni, and Bloomfield. Within these communities, the focus was on industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) entities as well as sharing ideas with community members.
This post will highlight all that was accomplished in Postville and Chariton.
The IWRC had the pleasure of working with the Postville Community School District as well as the Good Samaritan Society, a local nursing home. Laurie Smith, Postville CSD's Food Service Director invited the IWRC into the school’s cafeteria to perform a waste audit. We were pleasantly surprised to find they already had food waste reduction strategies in place.
On the day of the audit, they donated 142.5 pounds of kitchen food waste to farmers to be used as livestock feed. Kitchen food waste consists of the scraps that are left over from preparing meals. They also already have plans in place to recycle plastic, cardboard, and tin.
The largest source of waste that was observed during the audit was food waste. There were 111 pounds (.15 pounds per student) of plated food waste that was recorded. This totals to around 21,348 pounds or 11 tons per year across all students. The local landfill has tipping fees of $67.00 per ton, costing the school $737.00. The IWRC offered some strategies to decrease this expense as well as reduce food waste.
To reduce these unnecessary costs, there are a number of strategies that could be implemented. One avenue is to donate any leftover or unused food using a donation table. Any unused or unopened food could be placed on the table and donated to local food charities or could be passed along to athletes after school. Another option to Postville CSD is to start a composting project. There are simple regulations that must be followed and it could even take place right on school property. Lastly, the school could take a look at its own cafeteria. Recipes could be analyzed to see which meals are less liked and generate more waste, and lunch times could be extended to over 25 minutes to allow students ample time to finish. In addition to Postville CSD, we also had the opportunity to visit the Good Samaritan Society, a local nursing home in Postville.
The Good Samaritan Society prides itself on the fresh food that they serve and generating little food waste. Locals bring in fresh produce from their gardens to share. This produce is then turned into tasty meals for the residents. On the day of the audit, the waste that was observed came in the form of kitchen waste. It was comprised of cucumber peels as well as other food preparation waste. The total amount of wasted food on the day of the audit was 17.6 pounds. This means that on average the Good Samaritan Society is throwing away 6424 pounds of food a year. In addition to keeping food waste low, The Good Samaritan Society also recycled 1.4 pounds of plastic and 10 pounds of metal during the audit. The IWRC offered strategies that could be implemented to reduce the amount of food waste. Specifically looking at the kitchen waste, a partnership could be created with local farmers or community members. The extra meal preparations could be given to be used as livestock feed or compost. You can read the full Postville case study here.
Another Iowa community that welcomed the IWRC was Chariton. Becca Bittner, Food Service Director for Chariton Community School District invited the IWRC to perform waste audits within Chariton CSD. The district is comprised of four schools: Columbus Elementary, Van Allen Elementary, Chariton Middle School and Chariton High School.
On the day of the audits, the students were asked to sort the remaining food on their trays into the corresponding garbage bins: food waste, recyclables, compostables, liquids, cold lunch waste and trash. After the audit, the IWRC determined that 54% of all waste collected was food waste. Milk and liquids accounted for 26% and the remaining 20% was made up of recyclables, compostables, cold lunch waste and trash. Looking at the numbers, the district produces on average around 229 pounds of food waste daily from the students alone. Over the course of the year, that totals around 41,220 pounds of food waste. In response, the IWRC offered a final report and some strategies to implement that will save the schools money, and ultimately reduce food waste. One potential strategy is to implement a donation table near the garbage cans to collect unopened foods and liquids. This food can be donated or given to athletes after practices. We also recommended that student recess is scheduled before lunch instead of after. With lunch before, students are more excited to go outside and play and tend to lose focus on the food in front of them. Physical activity also stimulates hunger, so less food would potentially go to waste. Much like the students and staff at the schools, the community members were excited and intrigued by the idea of food waste reduction.
Nancy Warren, organizer and manager of the community’s farmers' market, invited the IWRC to set up a table at the event. The IWRC put together food waste toolkits that contained the following: a digital kitchen scale, a reusable lidded soup mug to weigh food waste, guides to composting at home, a list of strategies to reduce food waste, information about the project, and instructions to weigh, record and track food waste with a request to send tracking data to the IWRC. At the end of the day, 20 of these toolkits were given out with over 30 people visiting the table asking for more information. The biggest takeaway from Chariton was seeing the amount of support that the community members had for food waste reduction. You can check out the full Chariton case study here.
To learn about the other two communities involved in this project, take a look at Iowa Rural Communities Food Waste Reduction Project: Lamoni and Bloomfield. You can also check out other food waste reduction resources from the project at the Iowa Rural Communities Food Waste Reduction Project page.
About the Author
Iowa Waste Reduction Center
The Iowa Waste Reduction Center and the University of Northern Iowa are equal opportunity providers and employers.
This material is based upon work supported under a grant by the Rural Utilities Service United States Department of Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Rural Utilities Service.