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Does a significant percentage of school meals wind up in the trash?

By Todd Butterworth on 03/23/2023


A 2019 study of school cafeteria food waste found that 27% to 53% of the food served in an American school cafeteria was thrown away. These results are similar to other studies of American cafeteria food waste. Among other nations in the study, so-called plate waste accounted for 23% of total food served in Sweden, 20% to 29% in Italy, and 30% in Spain.

Another study estimates American schools waste approximately 530,000 tons of food annually — about 39 pounds of food waste and 29 cartons of milk per student per year — costing $1.7 billion nationally. The study also showed that nominal interventions can measurably reduce food waste.

The 2023 Nevada Legislature is considering a bill to expand the state’s free school breakfast and lunch program to all students, regardless of family income. The expanded program would cost $50 million annually. 

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


Penn State University More food waste in U.S. school cafeterias

WWF Food Waste Warrior program

Nevada Legislature AB319, 2023

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