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What a Waste!

Students at a school in Maryland are cutting down on food waste—and helping those in need.

Think about the last meal you had in your school cafeteria. Did you finish all the food on your tray? If not, a juicy apple or a container of milk likely ended up in the trash. 

The students and staff at Lincoln Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland, got tired of seeing so much of their food going to waste. In January, the school started a program to use the unwanted food and drinks to help others—and the environment.

Allison Shelley/Getty Images for Scholastic

Students at Lincoln Elementary collect uneaten food in their cafeteria and pack it into coolers.

Helping Hand

Tossing food into the trash is wasteful in many ways. For one thing, that food could be used to help the hungry. In 2018, more than 37 million Americans were unable to afford healthy food on a regular basis. 

The staff at Lincoln started a share table in the cafeteria to help address this problem. Students put items they decide not to eat—like unpeeled bananas and unopened containers of yogurt—on it. Then they pack the food into coolers and donate it to a local organization that provides meals for people in need. 

“You just feel happy inside because you’re helping other people,” says Lincoln fifth-grader Eliseo Sanchez.

Wasteful Ways

The kids at Lincoln are also preventing more food from ending up in a landfill. About one-third of all food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That happens for many reasons. Farmers often dump produce that is bruised or oddly shaped because customers aren’t likely to buy it. Grocery stores toss damaged cans and boxes that contain perfectly edible food. 

But who’s mainly to blame for all the wasted food? Individual consumers are—even though we may not realize it. 

“Everybody thinks that they waste very little,” says Roni Neff. She’s a food waste expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Maryland.

The problem is that people often buy more food than they need and then end up throwing away leftovers. 

A Global Problem

All this food waste is bad news for the planet. When food rots in landfills, it releases methane—a type of greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change.

Tossing an uneaten apple isn’t just a waste of food. It also wastes other resources—from the water used to grow the apple to the fuel used by the truck that delivered it to the store. 

Making a Change

The students at Lincoln Elementary are doing their part to eliminate food waste. Each school day, they collect about 150 leftover lunch items and donate them to the Frederick Rescue Mission. The organization uses the food to provide free breakfast to people in need in the community.

Lincoln’s share table has made students more aware of what they eat—and don’t eat. Eleven-year-old Lily Frizen now avoids overloading her plate—in school and at home. 

“It changed me a lot,” Lily says. “It’ll change you too.”

1. Summarize the reasons that throwing food away is wasteful.

2. Which details support the fact that about one-third of all food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten?

3. How has the program at Lincoln Elementary changed students?

Close-Reading Questions

Click the Google Quiz button below to share these Close-Reading Questions with your class.

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