Bringing home the problem of wasted food at school

The Western Australian-based Waste Wise Schools Program (WWS) was created to address the problem of what to do about uneaten food.

Food waste turns out to be a small problem that adds up to a large one – most kids eat most of their food most of the time, but they sometimes don’t.  ‘Sometimes’ multiplied across many schools equals ‘big’.

The challenge:
Investigate the behaviours behind food waste
Waste Wise Schools WA

What did we do?

WWS teamed up with BehaviourWorks and Monash University’s Faculty of Education to tackle avoidable food waste in WA schools.

We conducted a rapid literature review to see what others around the world had done to address the issue.

What did we find?

The rapid review revealed two behaviours that could reduce avoidable food waste in schools; the first was for parents to involve their kids more in the selection, preparation and packing of the food taken to school and the second was for kids to make sure they took any leftover food back home.

Two behaviours, two target groups. BWA then took a ‘deep dive’ to find out more.


Six hundred parents and 600 students in WA were chosen at random to take part in a survey. They were asked which of these behaviours they were currently doing and about their beliefs of the advantages/disadvantages and barriers/enablers of these behaviours.

The results showed that change isn’t as simple as growling “make sure you eat your sandwiches”.

Getting parents and their kids to adopt these behaviours would require some tweaks and a kind of homework.

It turns out that parents and students thought that the two target behaviours were actually no brainers (the best kind of behaviour change) and would not be much trouble to take up.

Despite a slight pushback from some parents (faced with proof that their kids were not eating everything), they agreed to give it a go.


So, how to get students to take back leftover food? A design workshop with WA teachers and waste educators identified that it might be as simple as a school policy about leftovers going home and removing bins from the schoolyard.

Sometimes it’s not about actively engaging people to think differently, it’s simply about preventing the undesirable behaviour during the odd times that it occurs.

Next on the menu

And what about parents getting kids involved in their own food preparation?

Based on the project’s feedback, WWS is going to test an additional intervention to the ‘all leftovers go home’ policy; rolling out food skills and cooking workshops for parents to help them involve their children more getting food ready for school.

The next stage is trialling the interventions in schools to promote the target behaviours.

WWS and BWA are aiming not just for a drop in avoidable food waste in schools, but also to embed the longer-term habit of school kids being involved in their own food preparation for school.

For parents, it could mean extra peace of mind and an extra coffee in the morning…

Image with thanks to Paul Hammond via Flickr.

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