PR1: Completion of research on the needs and challenges that schools face in establishing of food waste management

Between May and August 2022, the 8 partners from the Erasmus+ Cooperation in school education project „An innovative approach to food waste management in order to educate young people to value food and reduce the waste – ZERO WASTE”, carried out research in order to compile a synthesis report of existing literature on the needs and challenges that schools face in establishing and managing the issue of Food waste (PR 1).

The research represented the starting point of our project and was meant to define the knowledge basis on which the whole project is going to be built; apart from identifying the existing literature on the needs and challenges that teachers and students have in dealing with food waste, the research was also targeted at discovering how we can improve and develop materials which are already at the disposal of both teachers and students; more importantly, though, we wanted to find out how we can design new material (resources, tools and instruments) so that the main needs that educators and pupils have in the field of Food waste management are fulfilled. The partners representing the 7 countries involved in the partnership conducted not only desk research, but also a field research based on a structured questionnaire. The purpose of the instrument mentioned earlier was aimed at collecting data directly from the project’s primary target group: teachers and students on the secondary level of education.

As far as the first type of research is concerned (the desk research), all partners made an in-depth analysis of existing literature on the topic under discussion. We consulted laws, in-force national regulations, strategies, methodologies, relevant and pertinent points of view belonging to specialists in Food waste management, online reports and databases, good practice examples. Regarding the field research, the structured questionnaire was applied to a minimum number of 25 students and 15 teachers per country. The information obtained through the two kinds of research was introduced in a national report drawn up by each partner country.

The findings of the research have led to the following conclusion: although at European level there are documents and regulations which are meant to guide actions in the fight against Food waste and there is interest and preoccupation to reduce food waste, the concrete actions carried out at national level are insufficient in all partner countries. There is a significant knowledge gap regarding the food waste management issue and the characteristics of food waste in secondary education, with the awareness on food waste management depending on the initiatives school directors and teachers take to include relevant presentations or audio-visual material in their lesson plans. In most partner countries, there seems to be no official educational program dedicated to food waste and its prevention.

The limited results of local or regional projects initiated by NGO’s, schools or private entities leave definitely plenty of space for more practical interventions, concrete actions and a better collaboration between all actors which have responsibilities in this domain.  An essential element to achieve the goal of combating food waste at school would be to ensure that the fight against food waste is integrated into the students’ training curriculum as part of a real education in sustainability and respect for environment; providing also teachers with training resource to use in their lesson plans.

Another extremely important aspect that resulted from our research is that these resources are adapted to the needs and particularities of the target group. For example, the methodology used during different activities should be anchored in today’s reality, taking advantage of the advances in technology, of the students’ digital skills and interest in this fascinating world of the internet and social media communication. Educational games, online interactive platforms, apps that work on different smart devices must be available to both students and teachers if we want a larger, more efficient impact of programs/projects/campaigns that combat food waste.

Following the collective research, the participating institutions in our partnership will develop the educational material for a Training Course addressed to teachers, which represents the next stage of our project. All the valuable information that has been collected in PR 1 will be used in the training course that will equip teachers with competences which will allow them to incorporate the mindset and the knowledge related to food waste management and transfer this knowledge to their students.