During the fall of 2021, two schools in Rhode Island learned about the problems associated with food waste.

In October, the students at Raymond LaPerche Elementary School in Smithfield and Birchwood Middle School in North Providence were given presentations by RI Resource Recovery on Food Waste Prevention – What is Food Waste? Why Do We Care About It? What Can We Do About It? Then, at LaPerche, the 2nd and 4th graders learned how to become Cafeteria Rangers. And at Birchwood, the S.T.E.A.M. classes put together Green Teams.

In the winter, two additional schools joined Get Food Smart, RI, The Edward S. Rhodes Elementary School in Cranston and Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence. After learning about the problems of food waste from RI Resource Recovery, at Rhodes the 4th graders learned how to become Cafeteria Rangers and it was the 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Nathan Bishop who became the Green Team Captains.

Each school conducted food waste audits using five-bin cafeteria sorting stations, learned safe food handling guidelines from the RI Department of Health and showed other students how to separate food scraps for composting and surplus food for sharing with students and donating to local food pantries.

The 5 Bin Cafeteria Sorting Station:

Share Table – First, students placed unopened milk, yogurt and uneaten bananas, oranges, and apples in the cooler on the Share Table.

Liquid Bucket – Next, they poured off any unfinished milk and juice…

Recycling Bin – and placed their cartons, juice boxes, aluminum cans along with other plastic containers in the Recycle Bin.

Landfill Bin – Then they threw their straws, plastic bags, and wrappers in the Landfill bin and…

Compost Bin – Finally all uneaten food got put in the compost bin.

Tray Table – Trays are stacked neatly so they take up less space in the Landfill bin (Styrofoam, yuk!) Compost bin (paper trays, better!) or reusable trays headed for the dishwasher (best practice!)



By the end of the 21/22 school year, all four schools had diverted 13.6 tons of food waste, mostly for composting and donated just over one ton of extra food to food insecure families in their communities. Lunchroom custodians have reported that the amount of trash going to the landfill has been reduced by as much as 80%! Wow! That’s good for the environment because it reduces methane, the greenhouse gas caused by food waste in the landfill and because the compost it creates improves the soil.

Birchwood Middle School Highlights

S.T.E.A.M. teacher Katherine Bowers leads the food waste reduction and composting program at Birchwood as part of the school garden curriculum. The Green Team is composting the food scraps from the kitchen on-site next to the new school green house. Bootstrap Compost, the company that picks up the lunchroom food scraps is conducting a series of hands-on workshops to show students how to compost. And everyday surplus food from the lunchroom – unopened milk and yogurt as well as untouched apples, bananas and oranges get stored in the lunchroom refrigerator. On Monday mornings it gets donated to the. Thomas Church food pantry in North Providence to be distributed to food insecure families in the community… more than 500 lbs. as of press time. Recently the Birchwood Green Team came up with a name for their cafeteria sorting station…The Keeping it Green Recycling Team.




Greenhouse Dedication – On June 8th Birchwood School cut the ribbon on their new state-of-the-art greenhouse and S.T.E.A.M. teacher Katie Bowers and her 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were recognized as Food Waste Warriors for diverting 4.6 tons of food waste away from the landfill. Way to go!

S.T.E.A.M. Teacher Katie Bowers displays Birchwood’s Certificate of Achievement presented by Ron Gagnon and Michele McCaughey of the RI Department of Environmental Regulation.

Raymond LaPerche Elementary Schools Highlights

Raymond LaPerche Elementary School Principal Julie Dorsey is passionate about recycling and reducing waste. Classrooms were already recycling paper and she assigned responsibility for recycling cafeteria waste to 2nd graders for the first lunch period and 4th graders for the second.

LaPerche already employs best practices in their lunchroom for reducing food waste. Before lunch, each student chooses their lunch from a menu of options and when they enter the cafeteria, they are called to pick up their selection. Near the end of lunch, Principal Dorsey or other lunchroom staffers offer any surplus food to students who are still hungry, and the extra food goes quickly! This reduces wasted food and ensures everyone has enough to eat. Within two weeks of launching the cafeteria sorting stations, the 2nd and 4th grade Cafeteria Rangers were directing and facilitating food waste sorting with other students effectively and on schedule. But that’s not all!

Frustrated by having to throw away plastic containers that still had food residue, the Cafeteria Rangers added a soaking bucket. Now recyclable containers are placed into the warm water, rinsed and placed in the recycle bin, where they belong! What an excellent improvement!

Field Trip to the Landfill and the MRF – On June 9, the LaPerche 2nd and 4th grade Cafeteria Rangers visited the Central Landfill and Materials Recycling Facility in Johnston. During the tour, Principal Julie Dorsey and the Cafeteria Rangers were awarded a Certificate of Achievement naming them Food Waste Warriors by RI Department of Environmental Management Administrator Ron Gagnon for diverting 4.3 tons of food waste away from the landfill!

“We want to teach our students that they are responsible for the Earth. “We’re trying to treat the Earth respectfully. I call it saving the environment one piece of food at a time.” Julie Dorsey, Principal Raymond LaPerche Elementary School, Smithfield.

Edward S. Rhodes Elementary School Highlights

4th and 5th Grade Teachers Susan Weber and Stephanie Pearson were already measuring wasted food when they heard about Get Food Smart, RI. So, when we visited the school for a site survey, the students were waiting to tell us about it and excited to come up with a plan to reduce wasted food.

It seems that everyone at Rhodes was excited about reducing food waste, including the lunchroom Director, Ms. Lisa, the cafeteria custodian, Ms. Lilly and Food Service Manager, Ms. Elizabeth. Ms. Weber assigned her 5th grade students to become Cafeteria Rangers and after the initial training posted Ranger job descriptions on the wall behind each sorting bin. By the middle of the second week, the sorting station lines were moving smoothly and on schedule!

Rhodes Elementary school Cafeteria Rangers set up the sorting station.

Like Birchwood, Rhodes School decided to donate recovered food to a local food pantry and as of press time, Rhodes had donated 770 lbs. of high value food – milk, yogurt, whole fruit, cheese and carrots to a very grateful Project Outreach in nearby Washington Park.

Why So Much Left-over Yogurt?

In June, Rhodes hosted a lunchroom taste test with Farm to School RI and their food service provider Aramark. Rhodes Cafeteria Rangers noticed that there were a lot of yogurts going uneaten, so Aramark decided to sample a locally produced yogurt by Newport Creamery into which they dipped fresh strawberries. The samples were a big hit! Eating more fruit and local yogurt is healthy, supports local farms and is a great way to reduce food waste!



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Local Food Ambassadors – Parent volunteers Julie & Rachelle join Rhodes principal Gina Armstrong in passing out samples of fresh-frozen strawberries dipped in local yogurt from Newport Creamery at the delicious farm-to-school cafeteria taste test.

Here’s what Rhodes School principal Gina Armstrong had to say about the program:

“It is incredible to see the joy and pride on our students’ faces today at lunch! Their energy is contagious. And decreasing our trash down to 1 bag?! That is simply amazing.” 


Nathan Bishop Middle School Highlights

When PTO President, Maya DeHart heard about our food waste reduction program, she immediately set up a zoom meeting with key school stakeholders to see if Nathan Bishop Middle School could participate. For a school of this size, we needed unanimous support… and we got it!

Sixth Grade Science teacher Lindsay Whicker is leading the effort from within. She arranged for us to meet with the Sodexo Food Service team along with the Cafeteria Custodians and Paraprofessionals to explain the program and discuss how it would impact existing lunchroom processes. Lindsay then recruited 30 students from 6th, 7th and 8th grades to become Green Team Captains who set up and monitor the two cafeteria sorting stations, recover surplus food and measure food waste diversion.

After a training session on April 4th, the new sorting process began the next day. Having two sorting stations in the cafeteria kept the sorting process manageable. After the first week custodians Max and Raphael commented that the process not only addressed food waste but made their jobs better. By keeping liquids and food out of the trash bins, the number of garbage bags they had to haul went from five to one! And they applauded the students’ willingness to do something that benefits their school community, food insecurity and addresses global climate change.

Nathan Bishop Green Team Captains at work at one of their two cafeteria sorting stations.

Less Milk Waste – It quickly became apparent that Nathan Bishop students waste less milk that other schools. Nationally, middle school produce 19.4 cartons of milk waste per student per year. At Nathan Bishop, milk waste is less than half of that national average. The reason, we observed, is because milk is offered, not served. There are two milk refrigerators on either side of the serving lines. Students are told to get a milk if they want one. The results are obvious. If you take a milk, it is because you intend to drink it.

An active and engaged Parent Teacher Organization – Food waste reduction programs in schools are more effective and sustainable when they involve stakeholders beyond the cafeteria workers and students… especially parents. At Nathan Bishop, a group of interested parents immediately volunteered to oversee the student Captains during the launch period to ensure the program’s success.



Nathan Bishop parent Denise Guad, RISRC’s Warren Heyman and Bootstrap’s Igor Kharitonenkov get ready to add nutrient-rich compost to the school gardens.
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