Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:
This proposal was moved here from Shifting Behavior for a Changing Climate 2016


Through our efforts of regulating food waste in schools we can help overcome methane's impact on climate change!



Food waste is a mismanagement of a vital resource in our changing climate and contributes directly to emissions. The National Resource Defense Council published a study in 2014 stating that 40% of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten. According to the EPA, Food waste has consequently become the largest solid waste contributor to landfills. As all this uneaten food sits in landfills, it produces methane — a gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Experts estimate that eliminating food waste completely would have the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as taking a quarter of the world's cars off the road!

American school lunchrooms provide a unique opportunity to minimize food waste, both immediately and in the future. Schools contribute approximately 16,998,500 lbs of organic waste to landfills every day. Eliminating this waste will significantly lower the amount of methane being produced in landfills and can save the nation billions of dollars. Furthermore, altering how students think about and dispose of food will create more mindful habits for food consumption and disposal. These habits can be carried forward by the students, empowering them and possibly opening their minds to other sustainable practices.

We propose a multifaceted solution that will give schools the tools to empower their students to minimize, collect and process food waste.

For complete illustration of the proposed solution, please click here:

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?

We propose initiating a system that will provide several strategies to reduce food waste, work with the local community, and develop mindful eating habits in students for a sustainable future. The system will be implemented in several stages with various different components. Ideally The Core Shift Tool box will be brought to the table by the PTA, school teachers and administrators. Along with literature about food waste and how to implement the tools found in the toolbox, Core Shift package will consist of waste bins specially designed to weigh the organic waste and encourage proper disposal of food as well as recycling. The other component would be an app. that the students and faculty will be able to access on their phones and computers. The app. will have activities, information and member profiles. It will also provide information boards that could be displayed on digitally on monitors or easily printed out to be displayed on message boards.

First, the PTA and School administration will activate an existing club through a workshop, giving them the app and having them help set up the waste bins. If no club exists it is possible to set up a Core Shift club. The students will be the ones to teach their peers how to use the new


waste bins. Other children, faculty and parents will then see these students interact with the digital platform, the waste bins and engage in new activities. Announcements will also be made every day about the new Core Shift Program. What little organic waste there is will then be processed into compost at the school by students who volunteer, much like they would volunteer for community service projects. Slowly, the behavior of a few will become the behavior of many and set a new group norm for wasting as little food as possible and disposing of whatever is left properly.

After the program has become successful, the School Administration and the PTA will publish results in local newspapers and invite other schools to join them in a competition to see who can generate the least amount of food waste. A competition is something a school can take pride in, providing another incentive to continue trying to reduce their food waste. It will motivate schools to develop customized strategies of their own to reduce food waste, such as adjusting menus with student feedback or portioning food more efficiently. 

Who will take these actions?

While our proposal focuses on engaging middle school students, the first people to take action will be the parents, through school PTA’s and administration. They are the ones with the ability to implement core shift throughout an entire school.

We chose middle school students as they are old enough to make mindful decisions and yet, young enough to bring new and innovative ideas to light. At this age, students are mentally flexible and have the ability to develop new habits, ones that they will continue long after their formal education.


Where will these actions be taken?

Initially, Core shift will be implemented in middle schools throughout ten states. Ideally, we propose beginning within the top ten agricultural states in the United States. These states, especially the rural districts, have culture and tradition strongly rooted in appreciation for the Earth, as their livelihood depends on farming practices.

Schools with the Core Shift toolbox will gradually influence neighboring communities, on a local, regional and national level. This will allow our program to gather momentum, and be adopted in schools throughout the country.

What are other key benefits?

The Core Shift toolbox will empower students in a way that will motivate them to take an active role in creating, supporting and maintaining these sustainable practices.

The program will leave the community with one primary end product: natural fertilizer. This product can be used in place of, or to supplement chemical fertilizers, reducing the amount of nitrates being leaked into our groundwater. This local resource can also be used to mend local soil and support urban gardens.

The schools will also have the option to sell their compost as their own product. As the school generates a steady supply of compost, selling it could become a source of income for the school. The most sustainable option would be for the school to sell to neighboring farmers and community gardens, keeping it as local as possible.

The United States produces 31% more food than is actually needed. As mindful eating becomes the norm, less food will need to be produced and transported, reducing distribution emissions.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

To give an idea of the overall impact our proposal will have, we will use a single midwestern state, Minnesota. Minnesota K­12 public schools generate an estimated 483,520 pounds of food waste per day. Minnesota has a total of 2,637 schools, of which 291 are middle schools. That is


183 lbs of food waste, per day, per middle school, amounting to 53,357 lbs of food waste for all of the middle schools in Minnesota.

If all of the top ten agricultural states in the US produced the same amount of waste as Minnesota, it would measure up to 1,063,230 lbs per day and 388,078,950 annually! That’s 38,348,797,602,150 lbs for all of the US middle school, producing approximately 6,200,802,500 lbs of methane annually. Yearly, this is 25,217,850 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the proposal’s costs?

We understand that many schools do not have much additional funding for new and extraneous programs. However, we firmly believe low finances are a manageable limitation and should not be a reason for denying them such positive opportunities.

The cost of implementation of our proposed service can easily fit within an existing school budget. The initial monetary cost would only be for our toolbox, money that could easily be raised by simple fundraising activities. In the long run, the Core Shift toolbox would save the school money, repay its cost exponentially, all from selling compost and the reduction in food consumption.

Time line

Phase I

By 2020, Core Shift will be implemented in the top 10 food producing schools in the US. The program will save 60% of the otherwise thrown away food waste (232,847,370 lbs of waste annually, equivalent to 1,261,862 tons of greenhouse gas emissions). From 2017-2020 (percentage of saved waste going from 30% in 2017, 40% in 2018 and 60% in 2020), these schools would have saved over the course of 3 years 504,502,635 lbs of waste.


Phase II

By 2030, Core Shift will have expanded to 60 schools across the US. The program will now aim to save 80% of all waste in middle schools (23,284,737,000 lbs of waste annually equivalent to 94,639,649 tons of greenhouse gas emissions).


Phase III

By 2040, Core Shift will have expanded to 200 schools across the US. The program will now aim to save 90% of all waste in middle schools (69,854,211,000 lbs of waste annually, equivalent to 283,918,948 tons of greenhouse gas emissions).


Phase IV

By 2050, Core Shift will have expanded to 1,000 schools across the US. The program will now aim to save 100% of all waste in middle schools (388,078,950,000 lbs of waste annually, equivalent to 1,577,327,491 tons of greenhouse gas emissions).

Related proposals


[in APA format]

  1. Food Waste Facts. (2013). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  2. USDA | OCE | U.S. Food Waste Challenge | K-12 Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  3. Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  4. Fast Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  5. Food Waste in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  6. Lady Bird Johnson Middle School. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  7. Public School Directory. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  8. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  9. Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  10. Methane Emissions Reductions Calculator. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  11. School waste study. (2010). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from

  12. School Enrollment. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from