Research Article| Volume 53, ISSUE 5, P380-388, May 2021

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A Systems Examination of Food Packaging and Other Single-Use Item Waste in School Nutrition Programs



      Identify types of food packaging used in school nutrition programs and competing priorities, barriers, and facilitators for sustainable packaging waste use and recovery.


      Qualitative interviews (n = 20) and structured kitchen observations were conducted.


      Data were collected from 3 school districts in Northern Colorado.


      Three nutrition program directors, 14 kitchen managers, and 3 sustainability staff.

      Phenomenon of Interest

      Barriers and facilitators for sustainable food packaging waste practices among school nutrition programs.


      Interviews were recorded and transcribed, followed by inductive content analysis to identify themes.


      Commonly used food packaging included cardboard, aluminum, paper, plastic, and styrofoam. Four competing priorities were identified as impacting school nutrition programs’ ability to reduce or recover food packaging: serving line speed, labor, food quality, and cost. One key barrier was that school staff had difficulty understanding the total system impact of their food packaging use and recovery decisions.

      Conclusions and Implications

      Food packaging is commonly used in school nutrition programs, and participants felt that its use offered key benefits, such as facilitating faster serving lines. More research is needed to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of packaging waste reduction and recovery in school nutrition programs.

      Key Words

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