Food waste at Hawaii schools is way up. Could one nonprofit’s unique insight offer a fix?

The lunchroom fight to make school meals more sustainable is ongoing with composting emerging as an efficient way to get rid of leftovers.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 1:59 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 1, 2022 at 2:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When you’re in charge of lunchroom leftovers, you know exactly what kids like ― and what they don’t. In Hawaii, hot dogs are a favorite. Tuna fish and corn chowder are consistent misses.

That’s according to Windward Zero Waste School Hui.

The nonprofit composts all the food waste at five Kailua schools and they’re now processing a record amount of food.

“In 2019, we did 54.4 tons in our five schools,” said Mindy Jaffe, the coordinator for the program. “This year, the numbers show that we’ll be doing over 60 tons in one year.”

Ron Brasher, a publicist and resource recovery specialist for the nonprofit, said there’s been a “giant” amount of food waste.

But they’re on a mission to change that ― by cataloging what kids throw out and what they eat.


Brasher and Mindy said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nationwide waiver allowing all public school students to receive free meals this school year caused a massive amount of food waste.

The nonprofit said public schools don’t have much of a choice but to provide that much food because of federal requirements.

“What we do have control of is how we handle it once lunch is over,” said Jaffe.

The DOE spent $39 million on food in the 2019-2020 school year, according to a statement. That produced 18.5 million meals.

About 58% was paid for by federal funds, while state funds and cash sales covered the rest.

Windward Zero Waste School Hui said while DOE latest numbers haven’t been released, it’s clear from their five schools that lunch waste has increased ― and they’re hoping to turn that around with their unique insight.

The department also said they’re interested in cutting waste.

“As the department’s food menu continues to evolve, the ultimate goal is to reduce food waste as much as possible by serving healthy and nutritious food that students enjoy,” the agency said.

DOE went on to say a dozen schools have implemented a composting program and there are some schools where waste goes to local pig farms. “For schools that do not currently have a composting program in place, food waste is typically disposed of through refuse or trash pick up,” a statement read.

Windward Waste School Hui has survived off of donations alone this past semester. The community funded more than $60,000 since winter. Workers say they can survive through the summer, but don’t know where the money will be after that.

But they’ll keep up their lunchroom fight.

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