Pilot 4: Maine School Cafeteria Food Waste Study – 2023


  1. To reduce school food waste, volume, and cost.
  2. To improve nutrition intake.


  1. Worked with the Maine Department of Education nutrition director and faculty team to identify the most effective food waste and nutrition interventions.
  2. Researched best practices for elementary school food waste reduction.
  3. Recruited and selected four (4) participating Maine elementary schools for the Study.
  4. Implemented School Cafeteria Food Waste Interventions:
    1. Prep For Study 
      1. Prep school faculty/staff and cafeteria staff about School Food Waste Study.
      2. Prep kitchen for “offer versus serve” program.
      3. Replace disposable eating utensils with reusables.
      4. Sign-up food waste recycling hauler for weekly pick-up.
      5. Set up new cafeteria waste sorting stations with instructional signage (Find in Resources).
      6. Set up new cafeteria “Share Baskets.”
      7. Recruit food waste training, tracking and measuring student aides (4th and 5th-grade students).
    2. Take Baseline Assessments 
      1. Take daily Week 1 food and liquid waste measurements to set a baseline.
      2. Conduct Week 1 Food Waste Nutrition Audit. 
      3. Measure family baseline with Pre-Study Family Food Waste Survey. 
    3. Track Food Waste Reduction
      1. Hold Week 2 Food Waste Education School Assemblies (15 minutes).
      2. Post four (4) Food Waste Education Cafeteria Posters (See image 1).
      3. Track daily Weeks 2-8 food and liquid waste measurements.
      4. Create individual school Weekly Food Waste Progress Charts (see image 2).
      5. Conduct Week 8 Food Waste Nutrition Audit.
      6. Measure family impact with Post-Study Family Food Waste Survey.


Quantitative Data 

All schools involved in the study experienced a reduction in their food waste over the study period. At the four schools, fruit and veggie waste was reduced by more than one-quarter. The reductions ranged from 24% to 64%.

Qualitative Data 

Family Survey Results 

  • 53% of respondents reported their children talking to them about food waste after the study.
  • 75% of respondents reported their family discussing food waste recently.
  • “The biggest change is the reflection of my child’s own food choices and how much they serve themselves.”

School Cafeteria Interview Excerpts 

  • “Encourage food waste reduction by educating. I think that’s the biggest piece that we’re all missing. It’s the most important piece.” – Morgan Therriault
  • “Not having liquid in the trash can make the bag much lighter. It makes my whole job easier.” – Aaron Putnam, Custodial Staff at Asa Adams Elementary
  • “Allowing the student to choose which fruit or vegetable they wanted resulted in less waste because they picked something they likes and wanted to eat.” – Laurie Rufo, Kitchen Staff at Asa Adams Elementary


  1. Materials from the 2023 Maine School Cafeteria Food Waste Study:
  2. Waste Sorting Station Signage
    1. “Trash” Sign
    2. “Trays” Sign
    3. “Silverware” Sign
    4. “Liquids” Sign
    5. “Milk” Sign
  3. Share Basket Signage
    1. Share Table Guidance
    2. Share Basket Signage
  4. Food Waste Education Posters
    1. “Maine Food Waste Hierarchy” Poster
    2. “Feed Your Body!” Poster
    3. “Take What You Want” Poster
  5. “Stop Food Waste/What is a Meal?” K-5 Assembly Slideshow – Contact us if you are interested!
  6. K-5 Student “Food Too Good to Waste” Poster Competition Sheet (Coming Soon!)

Poster designed by student intern, Eddie Nachamie, in Sebago Elementary School cafeteria near food waste sorting stations. Poster reads, "Feed your Body! Not the Trach"

Image 1: Poster designed by student intern, Eddie Nachamie, in Sebago Elementary School cafeteria near food waste sorting stations.

Weekly Food Waste Progress Charts displayed in Lisbon elementary school's cafeteria.

Image 2: Weekly Progress Charts displayed in the Lisbon community school cafeteria.