Food Waste Pilot


A food waste reduction and capture pilot was carried out at all Ward 7 primary schools starting November 2016. Dunbar Grammar School joined the pilot in February 2017. This initiative was a collaboration between schools, ELC and ZWD in response to our school waste audits which identified food as the largest percentage of waste by weight in all of the schools (as per table 1 columns 1 & 2).

The ZWD food waste trial aimed to address the issue of food waste going to landfill from the schools.  In addition to the food waste trial, Dunbar Primary also started a ‘Band System’ to enable children to order the food they want on the day they eat it in the hopes of reducing food waste.

The following highlights the impacts the food waste trial had on the amount of food waste was saved from going to landfill; and, assesses the impact the band system had on reducing food waste at Dunbar Primary.

Our lessons learned will help to highlight practical measures which could result in the reduction of food waste across Scotland.

Table 1 Food waste by percentages and weights between the first and last waste audits at the schools in the ward.

Schools 2015 waste audit.

% of food waste in total waste going to landfill

2015 Waste audit.

Amount of food waste in KG in landfill bins

2017 Waste audit after food waste service started.

% of food waste in total waste going to landfill.

2017 Waste audit.

Amount of food waste in KG in landfill bins.

Food waste reduction

 % between first and last waste audit

East Linton Primary 43% 16.21 KG 39% 12.7 KG

Food waste prep accidently put in landfill bin.

West Barns Primary 47% 6.1 KG 32% 2.05 KG 66.40%


Stenton Primary 54% 2.7 KG 0% 0 100%
Dunbar Primary John Muir 34% 46.5 KG 16% 10.45 KG 77.53%
Dunbar Primary Lochend 29% 19.7 KG 27% 11.25 KG 42.9%
Innerwick Primary 55% 7 KG 5% 0.3 KG 95.72 %
Dunbar Grammar School 34% 30.8 KG 22% 12.5 KG 59.42%


Table 2 Primary school’s food waste weights coming from the kitchen (for November 2015 before the waste food pilot and in 2016 the first month after the food service pilot began).

Primary Schools Total in KG Number of Pupils fed Waste per head in g Food Waste Cost per meal £0.85 per 350g portion
East Linton Primary 157.7 1334 118.2 0.29
West Barns Primary 115.75 942 122.9 0.3
Stenton Primary No data
Dunbar Primary John Muir 634.50 4860 130.6 0.32
Dunbar Primary Lochend 256 2904 88.2 0.21
Innerwick Primary 76.25 588 129.7 0.31
Dunbar Grammar School No data
East Linton Primary 169.7 1401 121.1
West Barns Primary 110 1006 109.3
Stenton Primary No data
Dunbar Primary John Muir 493.5 3988 123.7
Dunbar Primary Lochend 311.25 2289 136
Innerwick Primary 46.25 719 64.3
Dunbar Grammar School No data
Total 2370.9  

Table 3
School Waste going to Landfill (all waste streams which are not recycled including food waste from the first and last waste audits).

School 2016 base line waste audit 2017 waste audit Approx. % waste decrease going to landfill between the two waste audits.
Stenton Primary 4.97 KG 0.57 KG 88.53%
Innerwick Primary 12.675 KG 2.5 KG 80.28%
East Linton Primary








31.85 KG

Food prep waste was accidentally put in the wrong bin but if the food waste was removed as it will be in the future the amount would have been

19.15 KG


Without the food waste which  now can be recycled at the school the decrease should be approximately


Dunbar Primary

John Muir Campus


Lochend Campus

129 KG



68.62 KG

63.1 KG



42.15 KG





West Barns Primary 12.86 KG 5.95 KG 53.73 %
Dunbar Grammar School 91.5KG 56.85KG 37.87%
      Average = 52.45%

Food waste saved from going to land fill:

This food waste capture trial documents significant reduction of food waste going to landfill (as shown in table 1, 2, & 3).

The second waste audits record food waste to landfill had been reduced at the schools by 21%-100% representing an average of a 66% reduction across the ward (see table 1 column 5). The percentage of food waste in total waste going to landfill has also reduced at all of the schools between the first and second audits, (see Table 1 columns 1 & 3).

The weights of food waste from the audits did not just come from food waste in the kitchen it came from any food waste produced in the school including; food preparation waste, left over dinner waste, some packed lunch food waste, fruit and snack waste and food waste from staff.  It does not include liquid food waste from drinks.

East Lothian Council also collect food waste weights from the kitchen and the figures from most of the schools in the ward from the council for November in 2015 and 2016 are presented in Table 2. In 2015 all the food waste weights went to landfill. The 2016 weights went to be recycled.

It is clear from all these results that the food waste collection trial had an extremely positive impact.

Table 3 shows how much waste in general has been reduced at the schools. The results in this table come from all waste streams and not just food waste. Waste in total has been reduced by 17-88% at the schools in the ward with an average of 53%.

The Band System

The Band System was introduced in Dunbar Primary to trial a system whereby pupils were able to choose their food on the day they eat it to see if  this would cut down on food waste. Prior to the system being introduced the kitchen staff had to estimate how many of each types of foods to make. Although the kitchen staff were good at judging this it did still mean that too much or too little of a particular dish could be produced. This could cause waste and also meant that sometimes children at the end of the line did not have anything they wanted as the most popular dishes were chosen first resulting in children not eating what they were left with or not having anything to choose from.

Since the start of the food waste trial children at Dunbar Primary got to choose what they would like for lunch during registration. They are then given a coloured rubber band to signify their choice so when they go for lunch the kitchen staff and the child can see (or remember) what they have chosen.

There was initially some concern over how much time it would take to administrate the band system in the classrooms however this process seems to have fitted into their registration routine fairly efficiently and the teachers and pupils seem comfortable with it.

The process does still require some guess work from the kitchen staff particularly at the Lochend Campus as the food choice figures arrive after the cook has begun to prepare the food for the day because there is not enough time to prepare everything if kitchen staff wait for pupils food orders before beginning to cook. The cooks then adjust the amounts once they get the figures in.

Staff in the kitchens at both campuses have stated that they feel the food waste preparation has reduced because of children choosing their meals but they have not notice a significant difference in food waste the pupils produce.

Children at both campuses were asked during the first week and the end of the first month what they thought of the Band System. In general children at both campuses like the band system though some said they didn’t like wearing the bands and were not sure what to do with them or had lost them. Children particularly voiced their approval of the system at Lochend Campus. This is mainly because children felt that, if they were at the end of the line, there was still some of the food they wanted to eat available. The older children also like knowing what they are going to have each day for lunch at the start of the day.

Kitchen staff at both campuses said that uptake of school dinners had gone up from previous months since the beginning of the food waste trial and the council’s data also seems to show that introducing the Band System is encouraging parents and pupils to choose school dinners.

Band System’s Impact on food waste

The initial impact of the Band System appears to be that food waste has gone down per head when judged against the previous year’s data by approximately 35% (e.g. Lochend Campus) which is a great result. The data also shows that food waste has gone up per head slightly at John Muir Campus by approximately 6% from the previous year. It is early days in the trial and it is worth noting that a new menu began at the beginning of the food waste trial so children, especially the younger children, were not familiar with it and did not know what they liked from it so this could be affecting the initial results. Kitchen staff were also adjusting to the new menu and system. Additionally more pupils are now having school dinners at both campuses.

The food waste capture trial and the Band System needs more time to be able to see the overall trend in how it is affecting food waste at Dunbar Primary. It is clear that there is still a significant food waste issue.  It is fantastic that food waste is now not going to landfill and that food waste seems to be reducing at Lochend Campus but the pilot has shown that there is still a lot of food waste daily at all the schools in the ward.

Pupils and staff were consulted and children were observed in the first and the last week of November 2016 at both campuses at Dunbar Primary to monitor the introduction pilot and the Band System and to see the impact on food waste. The waste audits also gave a great insight into the food waste issues at all the schools. From this a number of important factors were noted by the Zero Waste Dunbar Project which included;

  • In general nearly all the waste items being thrown away from school dinners are vegetables, pasta or puddings.
  • Baked potatoes were a particular heavy waste item with many children saying they did not like the skins or that there was too much to eat.
  • Very few main meal meat protein items were wasted.
  • The main reasons given for wasting food by the children were not liking it for a variety of reasons and there being too much food to eat and being too full to eat it.
  • The Lochend pupils identified that not liking things was more of an issue to them. However, both John Muir and Lochend campuses identified not liking part of the meal and having too much as the main reasons for wasting food.
  • Liquid in cartons is a significant waste food item at all the schools which is not weighed in the council’s data but our waste audits showed that it was a significant percentage of waste at all the schools.
  • Milk cartons are also a specific issue which has been observed in this pilot and during the waste audits at all the primary schools in this ward (and is an issue across Scotland). They create a lot of liquid food waste which contaminates other waste streams if it goes into the rubbish so that other items cannot be recycled and the cartons are difficult to recycle resulting in a lot of waste.
  • Packed lunches are also creating a lot of food and packaging waste.
  • Children, especially at Lochend, stated that there had been nothing on the menu they had wanted or that the food they chose had not seemed like the picture or the description at registration so had not been what they were expecting.
  • It was also clear from observations that waste was being produced because children were in a rush to go out to play or did not have time to eat all their food because they had come to the canteen last and the bell had gone whilst they were eating. This was mainly evident with the younger children.
  • Staff also raised concerns about how little locally sourced fresh ingredients were being used to prepare meals which they felt affected the quality and nutritional value of the food.
  • There was a lot of packaging waste associated with the food used to make the dinners.


The food waste pilot has resulted in a fundamental, sustainable and positive change to what happens to food waste at the schools in the area. A significant amount of food waste will now be saved from going to landfill and the system and infrastructure is in place to ensure this continues after the Zero Waste Town Dunbar Project finishes.

This achievement, which has only been possible because of the extensive support and collaboration from the council and the schools with the project, is one of the highlights of the 2 year ZWD programme.

There will be a long term impact to the environment because of this change and to children’s learning and entitlement to Learning for Sustainability which, it is hoped, will also result in pupil’s behavioural change to understanding the need to reduce waste and take good waste reducing practice into their own lives as they grow older. It is important that this change is understood, shared and celebrated for the success that it is.

However, the pilot does indicate  that there is more work to do to reduce food waste further at our schools and to educate children about it. The factors which affect this are complex and whilst some of them can be addressed at school or council level they will also need the government to take action and make changes to realise significant further reductions.

The Zero Waste Dunbar Project has made recommendations to each school in the Dunbar Ward, ELC and the Scottish Government for enabling a lasting legacy.

For more information contact


Zero Waste Town Dunbar would like to specifically thank all the schools in the district; for their support and hard work in making the pilot a success.

We would also like to give a huge thank you to East Lothian Council who went beyond what they were legally obligated to do to include this area into the food waste pilot.