DHEC: Over half of waste produced by schools is preventable

State - Regional

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released a new study suggesting that more than half of the waste sent to landfills by S.C. schools could be prevented.

The study, “No Time to Waste: An Analysis of the Material Generated, Discarded, and Recovered at South Carolina’s Public Schools,” identified food as one of the most wasted items.

Six public schools in S.C. served as the case studies for the analysis, which characterized “the solid waste generated throughout one day.”

Researchers analyzed the amount of waste (by weight), as well as the type of waste, where the waste was sent (landfill, recycled, donated, composted), and the level of non-recyclables in school recycling containers.

To reduce the amount of waste, DHEC and the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) are working to “implement waste reduction strategies” such as Share Tables and Offer vs Serve.

Share Tables provide a location for students to place unopened food and drinks, which other students may take at no cost.

Offer vs Serve allows students to decline being served items that they are not interested in, unlike the traditional “hot lunch” method, which distributes uniform plates to all students.

DHEC provided a list of key takeaways from the study:

  • The student per capita waste generation ranged from a half pound to one pound. This means, at a minimum, schools generate 375,000 pounds of waste every school day. Recommendations to address this include improving signage to reduce contamination in current recycling programs and establishing a reuse area for supplies.
  • Five of the six schools that participated in the study could have diverted more than half of the waste sent to the landfill through prevention, recycling, donation or composting. Four of the schools could have diverted more than 60 percent. Recommendations for this issue include upgrading current recycling programs and expanding into commercial composting programs.
  • Unwanted food accounted for 32 to 55 percent of the waste the six schools generated. Recommendations include implementing Smarter Lunchrooms Movement strategies, share tables, and OVS.

According to Myra Reece, Director of DHEC’s Environmental Affairs, “schools have a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership and environmental responsibility for young people.”

Ronald Jones, SCDE’s Office of Health and Nutrition Director, agreed, saying that “this study creates an excellent opportunity for S.C.’s school nutrition programs to evaluate their waste for the advancement of their programs as well as the protection of the environment.”

To read the complete study, click here.

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