Special to The Swellesley Report by Grace Wheelan, Wellesley High School ’23
In the cafeterias at Wellesley Middle and High schools, roughly 40 pounds of food per day is discarded — enough to feed 10 people a day.
Much of this food is high quality ingredients left unused in the kitchens, which are not ready to be disposed of. Matt Delaney, General Manager of Whitsons and the Public Schools District’s Director of Food Services, works with his team to match supply to demand as precisely as possible. However, there are often vast quantities of food that go uneaten. As the distribution center for the district’s cafeterias, Wellesley Middle School carries the brunt of this waste.
To help address this issue, Delaney partners with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and has donated 800 pounds of food in the past six months. This non-profit organization matches vendors with excess food, such as the Wellesley Public School cafeterias, with those experiencing food insecurity. That includes veterans organizations, Wellesley Community College and shelters throughout the region.
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine relies on local volunteers to perform food “rescues,” where they pick up the leftover food and transport it to its destination. According to Rescuing Leftover Cuisine’s branch manager Dana Siles, “the organization’s greatest obstacle is securing the volunteers necessary to ensure that no food goes to waste so that we can feed people, not landfills.” If you are interested in helping with their cause, “rescue opportunities” are available on their website.
Have excess food in your organization? Follow Wellesley Public School’s lead and contact Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. This is an ideal way to simultaneously reduce wasted food and food insecurity.
Another program aimed at reducing food waste finally launched at Wellesley High School. Due to student and volunteer engagement, the long awaited composting pilot program went into effect during the last few weeks of this past school year. Alongside trash and recycling bins stood green compost bins, which received food waste as well as compostable cafeteria trays. The contents of these bins was then picked up by Cero, a partner company that brought the compost to be used at local farms. The bins were monitored by volunteers who helped students correctly sort their waste, with the goal being that students learn to do so independently, eventually eliminating the need for volunteers. Correctly sorting waste is crucial to ensure that the school is not charged contamination fees when the compost is collected.
This program remains in its test stage, and although many are enthusiastic about improving sustainability potential by reducing food waste, there are still obstacles to overcome before it can become permanent. The program’s funding currently comes from a Wellesley Education Foundation grant, and in order to be implemented in the long term, it will need to be included in the district budget when it is reassessed in coming years.
Much of the student body proved engaged and enthusiastic about the composting initiative. However, some disregarded the need to properly sort waste into trash, recycling and compost, which caused contamination that threatens the program’s feasibility. In order to combat this apathy, organizers and students are working to raise awareness about the importance of combating food waste for both humans and the environment.
Sue Morris, a leader of the effort and member of the town’s Climate Action Committee, noted that because of its cafeteria set-up, where students select their own sides instead of having them provided automatically, Wellesley High School experiences less food waste than most. A large proportion of waste was made up of the cafeteria’s compostable serving trays, which were previously sent to landfill but are now being properly composted. Ultimately, Morris reflected positively on the pilot, saying, “I am glad we were able to get the food waste diversion pilot program started this Spring. Despite the many challenges, we learned a lot and we will take that information and regroup on a plan for the start of the upcoming school year.”
These efforts are key to helping Wellesley meet its waste reduction goals as stated in the Town of Wellesley’s Climate Action Plan. Between the composting pilot and partnership with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, the Wellesley school system is making strides towards reducing its wasted food as well as increasing community awareness about opportunities and benefits of zero-waste.