Brighton Schools tackle food waste with FOGO

East Derwent Primary sustainability champions. L-R: Bronte, Albert, Ruby-Jean and Sieanna

Canteen managers and teachers and are all-too-familiar with food waste in schools – it can fill up classroom bins as fast as paper and, cumulatively, is a major contributor to external waste bins.

Brighton Council recognised that schools are both challenged by food waste and also have ‘sustainability’ as a cross-curriculum focus.

“As a Council we wanted to help schools achieve sustainability goals, so we’re offering them a free organics waste collection as part of our Council’s FOGO roll-out to residents”, General Manager, James Dryburgh said.

FOGO stands for Food Organic Garden Organic, where food and garden waste gets composted for agricultural use instead of buried in landfill making greenhouse gases.

So far three schools have signed up and early results are very
promising. St Paul’s Catholic School, East Derwent Primary and Gagebrook Primary all have FOGO wheelie bins and classroom caddies for students’ leftover food. Council also provided FOGO caddies for canteens and staffrooms.

“As part of our SmartFood Platinum Accreditation we offer compostable serve-ware. It’s great that this now goes into FOGO bins and actually gets composted instead of going into landfill,” said Heather Reeve, the canteen manager at Gagebrook Primary.

“One of the most satisfying things is seeing how much the kids love emptying the classroom caddies and doing something positive for the planet” said Leah Turnbull, East Derwent’s 3/4 teacher and co-head of their student Environment Club.

“FOGO is great for us since we don’t have school compost bins. Like our soft plastics and Tops for Tots recycling programs, the students are really enthusiastic participants” said Casey Moore, St Paul’s Religious Education

So why is this such an important initiative?

Food waste, when sent to landfill, decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) which releases not just CO2 but another greenhouse gas called methane, now recognised as a major climate change lever. Methane is over 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, with the UN calculating that global food waste emits more greenhouse gas emissions than every country in the world except China and the USA.*

The good news is that it doesn’t last long in the atmosphere, so a big drop in methane will have a big impact on global warming. Reducing methane was a major focus of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, resulting in a Global Methane Pledge** to drop methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Gwen Harper, Brighton Council’s Waste Education Officer, noted that “Everywhere you look these days there’s a strong focus on sustainability so the children we raise and teach can live on a planet with a hospitable climate and resource circularity. By teaching students to separate food waste and send it back to farmers through FOGO, this is a huge step forward.”

* Global Food Waste emits more greenhouse gas emission than every country in the world except China and USA. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.