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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

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Project last modified 09/03/2022