Mindful Waste Initiative Gains Momentum with Barrington High School Lunchroom Audit

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Ever wonder how much food gets thrown out in the lunchroom at Barrington High School? Well, the founders of a new Barrington non-profit, Mindful Waste, are shedding new light on the answer plus a few key takeaways after a lunchroom waste audit they hosted at BHS Thursday. In just one day, they collected 27 pounds of uneaten food, 42 pounds of garbage headed for the landfill, 84.6 pounds of food scraps for composting, 28 pounds of liquid being thrown away and 36 pounds of recycling.  Wow – What a difference a day makes!


Jennifer Kainz and Renee Blue, who organized the audit, are co-founders of Mindful Waste, a new organization committed to eliminating food waste through education, prevention and recovery. Renee says, “First and foremost, we are trying to find ways to prevent food waste and increase consumption of healthy foods. And, when that fails, we want to help rescue the unwanted food that gets thrown in the trash every day and put that rescued food into the hands of the one-in-five families in our area that are food insecure.”

Jennifer, Renee and a team of volunteers hosted the event at BHS to continue raising awareness of the waste generated by schools. “Our hope is that the waste audit creates some momentum at the high school that will engage students, staff and faculty in looking at the waste that the school generates and finding creative solutions to these problems,” Renee says. “Mindful Waste is here and eager to support their efforts, but we hope the movement will be student-led through engagement and commitment.” All of the organic waste from the BHS audit was brought to Prairieland Disposal to be composted and the unwanted food was delivered to Cuba Township Food Pantry.


Jennifer and Renee have sponsored similar waste audits in District 220 schools at Prairie, Countryside, Roslyn and Hough and have found an noteworthy correlation.  The lunch time allotted for the different age groups is quite different:

  • High school students are allowed 49 minutes
  • Middle schoolers, 30 minutes
  • Elementary school students’ lunch lasts only 20 minutes

Their data shows that the elementary schools are generating far more food waste per student than the high school—showing the relationship between shorter lunch periods and increased amount of food waste.


“When students cannot finish or choose not to finish their food, we would like to give them an alternative to sending their food to a landfill,” Renee says. “The best way to do this is through food recovery programs.” Mindful Waste has partnered with Northern Illinois Food Bank to make food recovery in the schools a reality. Recovered food will be sent to centralized locations and the Food Bank will send representatives to pick it up.

Some exciting news is that the Barrington 220 school district has approved a pilot food recovery program at Countryside Elementary school, which will start next week. Mindful Waste donated a refrigerator so that milk and other perishable items like cheese and yogurt can be rescued along with fruit and sealed packaged items.  Additionally, the Village of Barrington and Barrington 220 will begin composting food scraps this spring, as provided in the new Groot contract approved by the Village Board in October of 2015.


The 220 HESS (Healthy and Environmentally Sustainable Schools) committee has set some great goals for the near future. One of these goals is a 25% reduction of solid waste going to landfills by 2020—a goal that Jennifer and Renee believe is entirely reachable if we reduce the amount of uneaten food and compost our food scraps. With all this momentum, Renee and Jennifer say now is a perfect time to raise awareness of the volume of food waste we generate as a community and move forward with action.

CLICK HERE for more information about the cause and ways you can pitch in to reduce waste in our lunchrooms and beyond.

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