'Significant amounts of food are being thrown away' warns councillor as UK schools projected to bin 'millions' of meals

School leaders in Lancashire have expressed concerns about the amount of meals which have had to be binned thanks to the Government's U-turn on school closures.

Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 4:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 4:12 pm

Many schools reopened on Monday - only to be told that night they would have to close again due to the national lockdown.

The sudden change has now meant millions of dinners and fresh food items will face going into landfill, according to Business Waste UK.

One school governor, Councillor Matthew Tomlinson and chairman of the Leyland Methodist Infant School said that the last-minute decision made by the government to close schools has meant "hundreds of meals" will be going in the bin this week.

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It is thought that £30 million of perishable food will be wasted this week following the Government's U-turn

The school made the decision to completely close on Tuesday, January 5, following the announcement and has now reopened for the children of key workers.

He said: "We give out 200 school meals every day and had all of those meals thrown in the bin yesterday because the announcement came just 12 hours before. The school had no remote learning ready and the guidance wasn't clear on who we could and couldn't let in, meaning we were trying to meet ridiculous expectations.

"We have now reopened to those children who were on our key worker's list during the first lockdown and have around 32 children coming in, with a maximum of 60 to meet health and safety guidelines and allow us to minimise contact.

"By next week we hope that we won't be in this position, but in this first week back, there are significant amounts of food being thrown away, unfortunately. Over the week, hundreds of good meals will be thrown away and wasted.

Councillor Matthew Tomlinson and chairman of the Leyland Methodist Infant School said "hundreds of meals" will be binned

"It is too late to set up food donations for perishable food that needs to be eaten and we can't turn up at food banks with hundreds of ham sandwiches that need earing that day. It has been a logistical nightmare and we only have around 20 per cent of the kids in the school.

"It is the unforeseen consequences, such as with the school meals and the ordering of food that cause so many problems for the school community."

In the UK, it is thought that three million school meals are served each day at an average cost of £2 a meal - meaning that Business Waste UK project that up to £6 million worth of food is being binned every day this week.

And they also estimated 15 million school meals will be wasted this week, resulting in approximately £30 million worth of food sent to the landfill.

It's expected that 15 million meals of perishable foods will be wasted this week

Mark Hall spokesperson for Business Waste said: “This is a national disaster, the government have well and truly let the schools down, they have allowed them to open and prepare for the weeks ahead, which of course means stocking the fridges high for this weeks school dinners and now those dinners are going in the bin”

“The schools simply don’t have the freezers required to store all the perishable food and that, unfortunately, will mean the vast majority is to be thrown away.

“The amount of food waste caused by a sudden lockdown is staggering – if they had been given warning then it could have been sent to other places, but now food banks will be overwhelmed and they typically only take non-perishable goods."

FareShare distributes surplus food to charities that turn it into meals, with almost 60 million meals made from donated food.

Schools are encouraged to work with their local authority to distribute surplus food instead of sending to the landfill

They are encouraging Lancashire schools to work with their local authority to donate surplus foods which would be redistributed to communities in need.

Jeff Green, manager of the Lancashire Food Redistribution Centre, run by Recycling Lives Charity as part of the national FareShare network, said: "We've every faith that schools won't let this food go to waste. We know that schools are at the heart of their communities and will know the families who will benefit most from taking the surplus.

"We already work with dozens of schools across the county who use goods we provide to deliver clubs for pupils and food parcels for families in crisis, while also reducing food waste.

"Should any schools find they have more goods than they are able to redistribute, we would encourage them to talk to their local authority. We will then be able to work with them to redistribute the food to other communities and charitable groups."

Lindsay Boswell, FareShare chief executive, said: “Whilst we are yet to see an increase in the amount of surplus food diverted to us from the hospitality and food service sectors since the announcement of the lockdown and school closures, what we do know is that FareShare has more than doubled the amount of food distributed across the UK since March 2020, to over 2 million meals each week.

“Not only this but in the first five months of 2020 we also saw a 715 per cent increase in the amount of food we redistributed from the food service industry – which includes commercial caterers supplying schools – onto frontline charities nationwide.

“Whilst the nature of the food supply chain is that surplus food arises in unpredictable ways, we have years of expertise of safely and quickly redistributing the food industry’s surplus onto the communities who really need it.

"We are ready to work immediately with the food industry and charities across the UK, to work towards our mission of ensuring that no good food goes to waste.”

County Councillor Phillippa Williamson, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said: "According to our information, most Lancashire schools have chosen to remain open to support vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. Some staff will also be in school for these pupils.

"Food is still available for those who are still attending school, but this could involve reduced menus due to the numbers in schools, which helps to reduce waste.

"Deliveries which are planned for this week have been reduced, to accommodate the levels which will now be needed by each school."

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