Oregon DEQ Funds Projects to Fight Wasted Food in Schools
MARION COUNTY—Wasted food is a growing environmental problem, and it has been estimated that 25 to 40 percent of all food produced or imported for consumption is never eaten. Meanwhile, one in seven Oregonians don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Oregon has been on the forefront of fighting wasted food, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) just found a new battleground—reducing milk waste in school cafeterias.
DEQ Awards $76,685
In December, the Oregon DEQ awarded Marion County Environmental Services $76,685 to curb food waste by installing milk dispensers and adding reusable cups and dishes in Marion County public schools. Title I schools within economically distressed cities in Marion County will be given priority for this project. This initiative was one of eight projects Oregon DEQ funded that focuses on food. Altogether, Oregon DEQ awarded $600,000 to 16 different projects that target waste prevention, reuse, and recovery to strengthen Oregon communities and protect our environment.
Dispensers Avoid Wasting 75k Gallons
“This grant will allow us to install milk dispensers in up to 15 schools, which we anticipate will annually prevent over half a million cartons from being wasted and avoid the wasting of over 75,000 gallons of milk,” said Bailey Payne, Waste Reduction Coordinator, from Marion County.
In addition to reducing waste, the project also strives to teach students the importance of reducing waste in the first place.
Reducing Waste Limits Production Impacts
Producing milk has significant environmental impacts. For example, burning fuel to produce fertilizer to make feed causes greenhouse gas emissions, heating water to wash machines requires electricity, and cows naturally release large amount of methane into the atmosphere. Milk then needs to be packaged and transported. In addition, throughout this whole process milk must be refrigerated at or below 40 °F, which requires electricity and fuels. When milk ends up in a cafeteria trashcan, all of the valuable resources expended before the milk was tossed are wasted. We must work to limit wasted food.
Dispensers Work to Limit Waste
Single use milk cartons tend to be a primary culprit of this waste. Schools are required to serve milk, and students have no control over how much milk they are served. With 495,000 students attending Marion County schools, garbage cans fill up quickly with partially filled milk cartons. This can mean up to 15 gallons of wasted milk a day across Marion County schools.
Schools that have already switched to milk dispensers have seen decreases in wasted milk because students control quantity. The milk dispensers, sometimes referred to as steel cows, are refrigerated and accommodate three, five, or six gallon bags, and have a stainless steel construction. The schools then implement the waste reduction curriculum to guide staff and students on how to use them and learn about how to reduce waste in general.
Other food related projects included in DEQ’s Materials Management grant program are reducing plate sizes in the residential dining hall in Southern Oregon University and recovering berries from commercial farms that would otherwise go wasted through the Northwest Berry Foundation.
To learn about Materials Management grants, visit DEQ’s materials management website here.
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