Sharing tables could reduce food waste in Brevard schools



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Children have no problem sharing their food.

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During the 2014 Green Stride Tour, while visiting two United States Department of Education Green Ribbon schools in West Palm Beach, I learned about sharing tables.

Sharing tables, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a memorandum of June 2016, are tables or stations where children can return whole food or beverage items they choose not to eat. Those items are then made available at no cost to other children who might want additional servings or to the ones participating in aftercare programs. Items not consumed during school meal services can be donated to nonprofit organizations or discarded.

In a country where “up to 40 percent of the food is never eaten, but at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table” (National Resources Defense Council), the idea of establishing a sharing table in every school sounds like a good one. It will be good for the kids who are going hungry and good for the environment.

As the EPA points out, “reducing wasted food has social, environmental and economic benefits [to existing problems]:

In 2013, 14.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during the year. That is 48 million Americans, of which 16 million are children, living in food insecure households. Wholesome, nutritious food should feed people, not landfills.

Food is the largest stream of materials in American trash. Once wasted food reaches landfills, it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

It is estimated that at the retail and consumer levels in the United States, food loss and waste totals $161 billion dollars.”

In Minnesota, for example, “K-12 public schools generate an estimated 483,520 pounds of waste a day,” concludes a study done by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. With approximately 1,681 K-12 public schools (Minnesota Department of Education), that averages to be 288 pounds of waste generated per school per day. The study found that 23.9 percent of that waste was food waste.

If we apply those numbers to Brevard, we estimate that our 82 public schools, serving more than 75,000 students annually, generate an average of 23,616 pounds of waste per day; about 5,645 pounds per day of food waste.

Because of numbers like those, more and more school districts from Palm Beach County to Vermont are adopting sharing tables. Brevard Public Schools (BPS) joined those districts just last November.

“The motivation to offer this program is twofold: we can offer extra items to kids going hungry and we can divert waste from landfills. It’s a win-win for students and for the district,” said Kevin Thornton, the BPS Food and Nutrition Services director.

“We now have 30 schools offering sharing tables and we want to see the program expand,” Thornton added.

One such school is Surfside Elementary. Surfside started its sharing table for nonperishable food about a month ago. The program has been going well and gained full support from the school community. What is not consumed is discarded at the end of the day.

“A lot has been saved from the trash,” said Erica Maier, a GSP teacher at Surfside. “The greatest challenge is the need for adult monitoring.”

The staff at the school has been doing that job.

The school will need help to expand the program and include perishable food.

Other schools plan to implement sharing tables in the near future. Manatee Elementary, for example, will start a pilot program after spring break.

To set up a sharing table, a school needs to:

Review the memo available at RecycleBrevard.org/2018/01/sharing-tables-in-brevard-schools.html with a principal.

For information, call Thornton at 321-633-1000, ext. 690 to inform BPS of the school’s intention to start the program. 

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@RecycleBrevard.org.