Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, Sept. 30, Features Innovative School Projects

Join us on Friday, September 30, 2016 for a Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, “School Gardening and Composting at Salem High School (MA).” The webinar will be broadcast from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM Central, and will be recorded and posted to the Challenge web site for later viewing. Register online at


Learn about innovative on-site gardening and composting efforts at Salem High School (Salem, MA). These projects not only provide fresh produce for school meals, but also engaging experiential learning opportunities for students. Our presenters will be Graeme Marcoux, Salem High School science teacher, and Deborah Jeffers, Food Services Director. This school not only has traditional garden plots, but also grows produce in a modified, climate controlled shipping container from Freight Farms. This atypical approach to on-site gardening allows the school to generate more fresh produce than they would with their traditional plots alone, and can allow growing during any season. This CBS Boston feature on the school’s efforts provides more information, and may help you formulate questions you’d like to ask during the webinar:


Coordinated by ISTC with funding from US EPA Region 5, the Green Lunchroom Challenge is a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations. By registering, participants are accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The Challenge involves suggested activities that range in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget and available community resources. Participants are not required to complete activities, but with each activity that is completed successfully, they earn points and can be recognized as having achieved different levels of accomplishment. Learn more, and register your school or district, at


Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Focus on Food Waste: New Guide Catalogs State Regulations on Food Scraps as Animal Feed

The US EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy establishes priorities for the types of activities individuals and organizations can undertake to prevent and reduce food waste. The hierarchy is depicted as an inverted pyramid, showing the most desirable or effective activities at the top (the pyramid’s “base”), with least desirable activities at the bottom (the pyramid’s “tip”).


US EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy


As with any consideration of waste reduction, source reduction, or preventing waste before it occurs through changes in processes is the most preferred category of activity in this hierarchy. Source reduction activities can include actions such as adjusting food preparation practices so less surplus food is generated, altering food buying habits to reduce spoilage of product before it can be used, or altering serving practices so that people are not provided more food than they are likely to eat. Source reduction of food waste is the most efficient means to ensure that the myriad resources invested in food production and distribution (water, land, energy, human labor, etc.) are not squandered. Next on the list of priorities is feeding hungry people–in other words, diverting any unused, edible food to food banks, shelters, soup kitchens or similar programs so it provides nutrition as intended, instead of occupying space in a landfill. If food cannot be diverted for human consumption (because it is deemed unfit for humans, because it exceeds the amount of food that can be feasibly managed by human food donation infrastructure, etc.), then the next most desirable option is to use food scraps as livestock feed, or food for animals in shelters, zoos, or as raw material for animal feed manufacturers. Many of us may have mental images of farmers in days gone by saving scraps for pig feed, or “slop.” During WWII, when so many materials were in short supply due to the war effort, this practice was even encouraged by governments, as evidenced by this historic UK poster:


WWII poster promoting saving kitchen scraps for pig feed
Image source: Save


In modern times, diverting food scraps to feed animals has continued to be used in some instances with great success, keeping materials out of landfill and reducing operating costs for businesses and institutions. The US EPA web site features success stories from New Jersey’s Rutgers University and MGM Resorts International, which diverts scraps from several properties in Las Vegas. However, many well-intentioned programs attempt to divert food scraps to animal feed without being aware of the patchwork of regulations and restrictions that exist throughout the country, sometimes inadvertently violating the laws of their state. Regulations vary widely, and are tied to modern efforts to control the spread of disease among livestock. Some states allow feeding of scraps to livestock after heat treatment to ensure destruction of disease vectors. Other states, including Illinois, have outright bans on feeding food scraps to livestock, particularly swine, even if the scraps are plant-based. The one exception to the Illinois restrictions is that farmers may use scraps from their own households to feed their own swine. While researching state law on this matter for ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge, I was personally struck by the use of the word “garbage” which regulation defines as “All waste material derived in whole or in part from the meat of any animal (including fish and poultry) or other animal material, and other refuse of any character whatsoever that has been associated with any such material, resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking, or consumption of food, except that such term shall not include waste from ordinary household operations which is fed directly to swine on the same premises where such household is located. Garbage also includes putrescible vegetable waste. “Garbage” does not include the contents of the bovine digestive tract. § 5/48-7 (2015).” Not exactly the common citizen’s definition of the word.


Luckily, to help guide organizations and individuals that are focusing more of their efforts on food recovery, the University of Arkansas Food Recovery Project and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic have just released a first of its kind guide cataloging the various different state regulations tied to feeding food scraps to animals. Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide to Using Excess Food as Animal Feed, can assist in navigating the somewhat daunting array of such regulations, helping programs ensure compliance with both federal and state law. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in food recovery, and for those interested in sustainability-related policy, it can provide an interesting example of how complex seemingly simple solutions may become when regulations vary from one location to the next. The guide is available online in PDF format from the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation at the Harvard Law School.


Leftovers for Livestock cover image

Focus on Food Waste: Donations Encouraged by New IL Law

The latest edition of the Illinois Environmental Council newsletter contained good news for those concerned with food waste reduction in K-12 schools and public agencies:


HB5530 was signed on July 15 and is immediately effective. This law prohibits schools and public agencies from signing contracts that restrict unused food from being donated to food pantries or soup kitchens.” (emphasis added)


Photo from USDA
Photo from USDA.


As mentioned in a previous post, federal law, in the form of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, protects citizens, businesses, and institutions from liability when food items are donated in good faith. Despite the existence of this law, there is widespread lack of understanding related to the legality and liability associated with food donation, and it is not uncommon to encounter people who work with food who genuinely believe that food donation should thus be avoided.


Indeed, in a report from the Illinois Radio Network, Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, expressed surprise that public entities in Illinois would require encouragement to donate unused food to food banks, pantries or shelters. But her own interactions with food service workers illustrated a belief among them that food donation was “banned.”  Some of this confusion may stem from language in contracts with food service providers at the school or district level. So the new state legislation clarifies the legality of food donation, and encourages it, by preventing schools and public agencies from signing contracts with such restrictive language. This legislation touches upon economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability by helping schools and agencies divert waste from landfill and thus save money in terms of waste hauling, by helping provide nutrition to community members struggling with food insecurity, and through avoidance of wasting resources embedded in the production of food, such as water and energy.


To learn more about food donation in schools, view the video and slides from the “Food Donation for Schools” webinar on ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge web site, available at See also the presentation on “Using Zero Percent to Donate Surplus Food” from Raj Karmani, available at The Green Lunchroom Challenge activity on establishing a food donation policy has some useful links to help find food banks and pantries in your area. For more ideas on how to reduce and prevent food waste at your school or organization, see

Focus on Food Waste: Product Label Date Dilemma

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 40% of food in the US goes uneaten. This astonishing figure carries even more impact when you consider that food production accounts for 10% of the total US energy budget, 50% of US land use, and 80% of our fresh water consumption. Additionally, according to Feeding America, in 2014 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households (including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children). Consider further that our discussion hasn’t yet ventured beyond our own country’s borders. The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that “one-third of the world’s available food either spoils or gets thrown away before it ever reaches a plate—that’s enough to feed everyone in the world for two months.”


A tag sealing a bag of hot dog buns displays a best before date of February 29.
A tag sealing a bag of hot dog buns displays a best before date of February 29. From original file by Bando26, CC BY-SA 3.0.


There are a multitude of reasons why food waste occurs along the entire supply chain from farm to kitchen, but one of the most confusing issues for consumers has been the lack of consistency and clarity surrounding dates printed on food packaging. We have all probably encountered at least one person who will not dare consume something beyond the “use by” or “sell by” date printed on its label for fear of food-borne illness. However, as the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service points out, these calendar dates are not actually associated with food safety. In fact, the only food product which is required by federal law to have a product date on its label is infant formula. And the “use-by” dates on formula packaging are there to ensure the product conveys the level of nutrition advertised on its label, and that the product’s consistency will still allow it to pass through an ordinary bottle nipple–not to prevent transmission of food-borne disease.


As stated on the USDA web site, the following types of “open” or printed calendar dates may appear on food labels. These dates are tied to peak quality, not food safety. And that level of quality is usually determined by a manufacturer or producer. Different manufacturers may have different ideas of what “peak quality” means.

  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

Additionally, “Closed or coded dates” may appear as packing numbers for use by the manufacturer, primarily on canned foods. These would not be recognizable to a consumer as a calendar date, and they’re used to help manufacturers with rotation of stock and identifying products in case of a recall.


The perception that food products older than those stamped dates might somehow no longer be wholesome is the reason why so much perfectly useful food ends up in dumpster and trash cans. It’s why your local supermarket might offer deep discounts on items which have a fast approaching date stamped on them, and why so many retailers and organizations hesitate to donate items to food banks and pantries, despite a federal law that protects them from liability if someone becomes ill after consumption of an item donated in good faith. That law is called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act; you can read more about it, including the actual text of the legislation, on the Feeding America web site.


To be sure, food does go bad, and a smart consumer trusts his or her senses when it comes to such things. Simple cues, such as the smell, look, and feel of a foodstuff are much more informative about food safety than any calendar date stamped upon food packaging. The aforementioned USDA site includes some good guidelines related to actual safety. The Business Insider article “Expiration dates are bogus — here’s the best way to tell if a food’s gone bad,” also provides some useful tips. Other useful sites include StillTasty, EatByDate, and


In response to increased awareness related to food label date confusion, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine introduced a bill earlier this year aimed at creating a uniform national date labeling system, with an eye toward greater clarity for consumers and companies, as well as waste reduction. You can read the text of the proposed Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, and track its progress, on See also “Consumer Perceptions of Date Labels: National Survey.”


To learn more about other food waste related issues, check out the Huffington Post’s Reclaim project. To raise awareness of food waste issues among students and help K-12 schools and districts reduce and prevent food waste, check out ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge.

National Geographic Features Food Waste

The March 2016 edition of National Geographic Magazine includes an article by Elizabeth Royte entitled “How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger.” Royte is a well-known science writer who has taken in-depth looks at waste before, most notably in her book Garbage Landin which she follows the trail of household trash after it leaves the curb, and explores various aspects of waste disposal, as well as our consumption-oriented culture and its consequences.


In this NatGeo article, Royte does a great job outlining the myriad of food waste issues. While 800 million people worldwide go hungry, about a third of the food produced on Earth is wasted–enough to feed 2 billion people. These losses sometimes due to spoilage; confusion over the dates stamped on products by manufacturers; post-harvest loss caused by inadequate storage and infrastructure; consumer disdain for leftovers; and cultures in which portion sizes have grown to an extent that waste inevitably occurs. There are issues of aesthetic standards imposed by retailers as well, which mean that scores of perfectly edible yet visually imperfect examples of fruit and vegetables never even make it to the shelves in grocery stores; they’re rejected before they even have a chance at being sold. And wasted food doesn’t just equal wasted nutrition and money–it’s also wasted resources. The huge amounts of food we waste represents huge investments in water, human labor, and fuel for production. And as waste breaks down in landfills, it releases greenhouse gases. As Royte notes, “If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the U.S. ”


Royte outlines these sad realities while providing a detailed look at what one activist, Tristram Stuart, does to fight food waste. Stuart is the founder of Feedback, an organization that campaigns against food waste throughout the system of production and consumption. The article takes a particular look at one of the organization’s major campaigns, “Feeding the 5000,” in which feasts are organized in venues around the world to feed 5000 people using food that would otherwise have been wasted. The article highlights other organizations and programs as well, and provides tips for what you can do to reduce your own food waste footprint.


Read the full article at Check out the Green Lunchroom Challenge, ISTC’s project geared toward preventing and reducing food waste in K-12 schools, for more information on addressing these issues in your community. Consider how ISTC’s Zero Waste Illinois program can assist your organization in identifying waste reduction and management improvement opportunities. And if you’re interested in promoting commercial composting in IL, consider becoming a member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC).


National Geographic Logo


Green Lunchroom Challenge Period Extended

The period for the Green Lunchroom Challenge, an ISTC project focused on reducing and preventing food waste at K-12 schools, is being extended. While the end of the Challenge was originally set at April 1, 2016, participants will now have until May 31, 2016 to complete suggested activities and submit required materials to earn points.


With this extension, the Challenge period will roughly correspond to the entire school year. This will allow more time for preparation and submission of materials required to earn points, and for participants to observe relative progress. Activity descriptions and requirements are available at


Challenge results will be announced in June, but at that point, most schools will have adjourned for the summer. Because of this, a presentation of awards (either in person or via an online ceremony, TBD with the winners) will be held in early September 2016 so students, staff, and the community of the winning school and district can participate in a celebration of their accomplishment.


Questions related to the Green Lunchroom Challenge may be addressed to Joy Scrogum.


school kids in cafeteria
Photo: USDA Blog

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar Scheduled for 3/14

The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project funded by US EPA Region 5 focused on K-12 schools. Schools and districts participate in a voluntary competition aimed at reducing food waste in food service operations through completion of a variety of suggested activities. Participation not only helps ensure that precious resources are expended to provide nutrition as intended, rather than being wasted in the form of food waste, but also sets an example of conservation for students. Points are earned for completion of activities; the school with the most points at the end of the Challenge period will receive public recognition and a prize.


The Challenge offers a series of webinars open not only to registered schools, but to all interested parties. The next webinar is scheduled for 3:00- 3:50 PM on Monday, March 14th. Sara Ryan, of St. Louis Composting/Total Organics Recycling will discuss their food scrap composting services and their work with school districts and schools. If you’re located in the southwestern part of IL, and are considering commercial composting of food scraps, don’t miss this opportunity to learn more!


Online registration for this webinar is available at To view recordings and slides from past Challenge webinars, go to


Questions about the webinar or Challenge in general may be addressed to Joy Scrogum, ISTC.


Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar Recording: Food Donation for Schools

In case you missed it, the recording and presentation slides from the recent Green Lunchroom Challenge webinar on food donation for schools are now available online at Dr. Kathleen Dietrich, Executive Director of Food Bus, Inc. described how that organization assists schools in donating excess food to local pantries and food banks.


The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project, funded by US EPA Region 5, focused on engaging K-12 schools in IL in food waste reduction and prevention strategies through a voluntary, friendly competition. Interested schools or school districts can sign up at, and complete any combination of suggested activities during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016).


Though any school or distict in IL can participate, ISTC is particularly interested in recruiting participants from Pulaski, Alexander, Marion, White, and Fayette counties. According to data from the ISBE, over 70 percent of K-12 students in those counties are eligible for assistance through the National School Lunch Program. By preventing and reducing food waste in these areas particularly, and throughout the state, it is hoped the Challenge will not only achieve environmental benefits, but also stretch federal and state assistance and resources through increased efficiency.


To learn more about the Challenge, visit or contact Joy Scrogum. Watch the Challenge web site’s Upcoming Events page for information on other relevant webinars and events hosted by ISTC or other agencies in the weeks to come.

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, 11/18: School Food Donation

Are you an IL school or district administrator, nutritionist, educator, or parent interested in food donation as part of your school’s food waste reduction strategy? Join the Green Lunchroom Challenge for a free webinar, Wednesday, November 18, from 3-4 PM to hear Dr. Kathleen Dietrich, Executive Director of Food Bus, Inc. describe how that organization assists schools in donating excess food to local pantries and food banks.


The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project, funded by US EPA Region 5, focused on engaging K-12 schools in IL in food waste reduction and prevention strategies through a voluntary, friendly competition. Interested schools or school districts can sign up at, and complete any combination of suggested activities during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016). Participants earn points for each completed activity, and relative progress will be displayed on an online leaderboard. Resources and guidance will be available on the Challenge website and from ISTC technical assistance staff for each recommended activity. On Earth Day 2016, the school and district with the most points will be declared winners, and will receive public recognition and prizes (to be determined) to foster continuous improvement in food waste reduction. Donating excess food for human consumption is among the suggested Challenge activities.


Register for the webinar at Feel free to attend even if your school has not yet signed up for the Challenge, or if you don’t represent a school or school district and are simply interested in learning more about how schools in your area can donate excess food to prevent waste. Webinar participants will be able to ask questions and participate in discussion through the GoToWebinar chat box. If you are unable to attend the webinar live, it will be recorded and posted to the Challenge web site for later viewing. Questions about this webinar, the Green Lunchroom Challenge, or suggestions for future Challenge webinar topics may be addressed to Joy Scrogum.


Green Lunchroom Challenge logo



Researcher Spotlight: Shantanu Pai

Shantanu PaiShantanu Pai is an assistant sustainability researcher at ISTC working in the Zero Waste Illinois program, which assists in waste diversion and pollution prevention benefits for Illinois business, industry, and government. He joined ISTC in 2013.


Shantanu graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in 2013 with a BS in Waste and Soils Resources. During his studies, he served as a research assistant at the Center for Land Use and Planning and at the Center for Waste Education. He also worked with Marathon County, WI, on framing their zero waste plan.


His research interests include fate and transport of waste materials through market driven initiatives; the role of affluence and directed public policy in solid waste management; and solid waste industry in the developing world. His passion for these topics is captured in a 2014 Prairie Research Institute lightning talk.


Shantanu counts the Solid Waste Characterization and Zero Waste Assistance program at the Forest Preserve of Cook County as his greatest ISTC accomplishment to date. He is also proud of and dedicated to the many ISTC projects that have helped manufacturing facilities across Illinois reduce waste.


Connect with Shantanu on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Check the ISTC home page periodically for more Researcher Spotlights. Thanks to Lauren Quinn for writing the original profile of Shantanu for the home page!