KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On any given school day, more than 100,000 meals are served in Hawaii's public schools.
But the state Department of Education has no way of tracking how much food students waste, and must follow strict government guidelines that dictate where students must eat their food.
State Department of Education Food Services Supervisor Dexter Kishida said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is pretty clear about the guidelines: "Food must be consumed in the designated food area."
That means school meals can't be taken off campus. Once in a student's hands, what isn't consumed has to go into the trash.
"We don't want our students inadvertently getting sick, or taking their pizza and sticking it in their backpack for an afternoon snack. That would be a huge concern," Kishida said.
To many people, that seems like a waste. Uneaten fruit and unopened cartons of milk are disposed of.
To lessen food waste, the DOE field tests new foods before adding them to menus, and some schools turn table scraps into compost.
Kailua Elementary fourth-graders, for example, are learning how to recycle food scraps.
"They try really hard to eat what's on their plate ... because they understand where it goes," teacher Emma Galdeira said. "But I think now with this we're bringing it back into our gardens and they're understanding how they can use it in a different way."
The DOE is also entertaining the idea of working with Aloha Harvest, a nonprofit that collects uneaten food and distributes it to those in need.
"I would love to have at least a pilot program with them," Aloha Harvest Director Kuulei Williams said. "For years, we've been trying to get into DOE. We would love to be able to do that and get food to where it's needed."
Kishida said working with Aloha Harvest means navigating a maze of procedures and protocols. But that's not impossible.
Finally, the state is also launching a new system in August that will help the DOE see how much students eat — and how much ends up in the garbage.