Eating away at sustainability. Food consumption and waste patterns in a US school canteen

Laura García-Herrero, Christine Costello, Fabio De Menna, Lydia Schreiber, Matteo Vittuari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


In order to achieve a sustainable diet, perfect understanding and coordination of the production and consumption aspects of the food system need to be achieved, including inefficiencies as food waste. Food waste rates in developed countries are increasingly perceived as a failure in the system. Within school canteens high levels of food waste are generated, in a location where habits about sustainable consumption should be transmitted to the next generation. This gap between education on best practices and student behavior should be addressed by contextualizing and characterizing meal services within sustainable diets. This research assessed the impacts of food consumption and wastage, including the nutritional characteristics through a case study in a school canteen located in Columbia, Missouri, US. It combines life cycle assessment, environmental life cycle costing, nutritional evaluation, and a food waste audit using weighing, visual assessment, and sorting techniques to estimate the food waste of different canteen users (students and faculty members). The novelty of this research relies on the integration of recognized life cycle thinking methods, including the role of embedded impacts within environmental, cost, and nutritional attributes. Food wasted at the canteen represented between 28 and 53% (by weight) across canteen users of the food served as meals, accounting for 10–35% of nutrients. The highest environmental contribution occurred at the food procurement stage (85%), while the lowest occurred at food preparation (2%). The largest costs are associated with food preparation activities and food purchases (39% meal cost). The embedded food waste impact accounts for 40–57% of the total global warming potential and about 27% of the total cost. Interventions are proposed and evaluated to improve the diet performance, which could be extended to further canteen scenarios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123571
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - Jan 10 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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