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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Around Town: Wyoming Middle School Food Waste Warriors

Eighth grade students helped separate food waste.
By Laura Lea Murley

If you visited Wyoming Middle School (WMS) cafeteria during a Wednesday lunch period last spring, you may have seen fifth and eighth grade students working as Food Waste Warriors, learning about what causes food waste and teaching their fellow students about ways to reduce it. Wyoming Middle School is one of three Cincinnati-area schools awarded a $2000 grant from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District in support of the Food Waste Warriors program.

For several years the Wyoming PSA Green Team has promoted zero waste lunches at the Middle and Primary Schools, and this program further builds on that foundation. The Food Waste Warriors program is designed to teach students about the impacts of food waste in one of the settings where it is most likely to happen, the school cafeteria.

In 2019, students in nine American cities performed six-week food audits to identify which foods are getting tossed from lunch trays, to determine why students toss those food items, and then to devise better ways to reduce food waste at lunch. Here in Wyoming, Spanish teacher Kelly Anders and science teacher David Rensberger worked with Angela Rivera, Outreach Specialist at Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District, to adapt the WWF curriculum for their classrooms and to run the lunch-time food audits. Ms. Ander’s fifth grade Spanish students used the Food Waste Warrior educational materials and their own curiosity to create a list of interview questions regarding why lunch items are thrown out.
Eighth graders helped to collect waste for the Food Waste Warrior Food Audit.
Ms. Anders translated these questions and the students conducted lunch-time interviews in Spanish to learn more about how and why food waste happens at WMS. While the fifth grade Spanish curriculum already included a unit on nature and the environment, Ms. Anders said that this WWF program provided additional depth and relatability to the unit, while giving her students an opportunity to practice their Spanish skills, and to promote environmentally friendly choices at lunch.

Fifth grade student Gitu Iyer explained that some students would conduct interviews one week of the audit while others helped classmates sort their waste, and then they would switch jobs the next audit week. She thought it was cool to use her Spanish to ask why items were being thrown away and her favorite part was writing down which items were thrown in the garbage. She also helped collect liquid waste and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about recycling and composting.

Fellow fifth grader Maddox Kaylor helped with the questionnaire and reported that most kids weren't eating their food because they claimed they weren't hungry. Maddox saw that the school wasted a lot of food in the beginning of the program but, as kids became more educated on how to prevent waste, and with each audit, he thought the amount of food waste decreased.

Annabel Auger, also from fifth grade, said the program was super fun. She learned that if the school worked together then reducing waste was quite easy. She thought that the people who came to WMS to help run the program were amazing and kind.
Fifth grade Spanish students conducted interviews in Spanish to determine why some food is thrown away after lunch at Wyoming Middle School. Left to right, Gitu, Olivia, Libby, and Maddox.
During the audit, food waste was separated into different categories: fruits and vegetables, wet items, milk, food from home, unopened items, etc. The amount of lunch waste was weighed and this information and the student responses to the food waste surveys were given to approximately twenty students in David Rensberger’s eighth grade science classes for analysis. The science students observed that lunch waste decreased over the six weeks of the food audit and attributed this to students learning more about what waste was recyclable and how to identify food that could be reused, donated, or even shared with other students at a later time.

According to Mr. Rensberger, when asked to think about food waste, students appeared to modify their behavior at lunch and this led to real life consequences, in this case reducing the amount of waste produced. Eighth grade students have also designed a variety of posters and created slogans, logos, and PSA's in the form of power point presentations in support of the Food Waste Warrior program. Mr. Rensberger plans to use these to promote the program and remind students of the importance of avoiding food waste in August when school resumes.
 Fifth grade Spanish students worked during lunch to separate food waste.
WMS has already implemented some ways of reducing food waste at lunch, including starting a food sharing table where students can put unopened, temperature-stable food or drinks that they don’t want to eat. Students who would like an additional serving can take one from the table and, after lunch, any leftover food is transferred to the counsellors’ office to be used for snacks for the afternoon. We expect to see fifth and eighth grade WMS students working as Food Waste Warriors in the future as well. Both Ms. Anders and Mr. Rensberger intend to continue using the Food Waste Warriors curriculum either in class or in-service projects next year.

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