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Primary school children’s responses to food waste at school

The issue of food waste has become a political priority in many developed countries. Statistics show that a total of 68,000 tonnes is generated by primary schools in England and 28,000 tonnes by secondary schools, giving a total food waste weight of 96,000 tonnes per annual. This project seeks to understand children’s responses to food waste in school by exploring their views on food waste and empowering them to discuss and develop their own solutions.

Children’s responses to food waste in school

Using qualitative data analysis, looking at children's photos and their narratives, our findings revealed that children displayed negative emotions concerning food waste and responded positively to the possibility of food recycling.

Children displayed a competent understanding of the challenges of managing lunches in the school setting and reducing food waste. Their solutions to reduce food waste will require multiple stakeholder engagement, including self-regulation, peer-monitoring, teacher supervision and family support. However, rather than relying on intervention schemes that require significant adult involvement, children placed a heavy emphasis on self-regulation, playing an active role in addressing food waste in school.

The project did not come without limitations:

  • The teachers did not measure food served and food waste per plate, therefore it was difficult to calculate the waste produced by each child.
  • the older children (school year 3 and 4) could access the salad bar freely, but it was not clear how it was served per plate; hence it was difficult to calculate what percentage of the food has been wasted by each child.
  • The sample group’s food waste was mixed with other children’s waste in the food waste bin, so it was impossible to measure any significant difference between the sample group and the others.
  • The food quality served at the school did vary on a daily basis and had an impact on the amount of food waste. The headteacher reported that when the school chef accidentally burned the roast potatoes, the potatoes were discarded by children. 

While the weight of the total school lunchtime food waste did not decrease over time, from February to July 2019, considering such a well-structured and complex view that participants were able to offer, we suggest that children (not only adults) should be considered as relevant stakeholders in evaluating the organisation and management of lunches at school.


Yen, D., Dovey, T. and Cappellini, B., 2022. Primary School Children’s Responses to Food waste at School. British Food Journal.

How we conducted our research

Children's suggestions on tackling school waste
Children's suggestions on tackling school waste

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dorothy Yen
Dorothy Yen - Professor Dorothy A. Yen is a Professor in Marketing. She is currently the Director of Research at Brunel Business School, Brunel University London.  Dorothy takes a consumer-centric approach to understanding and discussing marketing, branding, and tourism matters. Dorothy studies how culture affects human behaviour, in both B2B and B2C domains. In the B2B domain, she looks at cross-cultural business relationships, with a particular focus on understanding how cultural-specific factors affect business relationships and collaborations. In the B2C domain, she studies consumer acculturation and sojourners’ and migrants' consumption practices and social media activities in relation to their cultural identity, as well as tourism boycotts and tourists' interactions with destinations on social media. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dorothy explored how migrants in the UK attempted to cope with the life-threatening disease while dealing with institutional uncertainty and a hostile host environment. Dorothy’s proposal on branding Wales as a land of dragons and legends triggered numerous discussions, and she has been invited to give evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee.  Dorothy is a member of the Marketing and Corporate Brand Research Group at Brunel Business School and a lab leader of the Responsible Consumption and the Circular Economy Lab for the CBASS research centre of Substantiality and Entrepreneurship. Office hours are provided on Wednesdays from 11am to 1pm. Students can also email her to book an appointment at a mutually convenient time. This can be either on campus or via Microsoft TEAM upon mutual agreement.

Related Research Group(s)


Entrepreneurship and Sustainability - Our focus is on how individuals, businesses and societies can tap into creative and entrepreneurial flair to develop innovative solutions, in order to not only create economic value, but also solve social and environmental problems.

fruit waste

Global Lives - Research conducted in the Centre addresses the challenges facing society, helping to change the lives of people around the world by bringing economic, social and cultural benefits.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 12/10/2023