A Systems Examination of Food Packaging and Other Single-Use Item Waste in School Nutrition Programs

Shelly Palmer, Cameron Herritt, Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, Katerina S. Stylianou, Melissa Pflugh Prescott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Identify types of food packaging used in school nutrition programs and competing priorities, barriers, and facilitators for sustainable packaging waste use and recovery. Design: Qualitative interviews (n = 20) and structured kitchen observations were conducted. Setting: Data were collected from 3 school districts in Northern Colorado. Participants: Three nutrition program directors, 14 kitchen managers, and 3 sustainability staff. Phenomenon of Interest: Barriers and facilitators for sustainable food packaging waste practices among school nutrition programs. Analysis: Interviews were recorded and transcribed, followed by inductive content analysis to identify themes. Results: Commonly used food packaging included cardboard, aluminum, paper, plastic, and styrofoam. Four competing priorities were identified as impacting school nutrition programs’ ability to reduce or recover food packaging: serving line speed, labor, food quality, and cost. One key barrier was that school staff had difficulty understanding the total system impact of their food packaging use and recovery decisions. Conclusions and Implications: Food packaging is commonly used in school nutrition programs, and participants felt that its use offered key benefits, such as facilitating faster serving lines. More research is needed to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of packaging waste reduction and recovery in school nutrition programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-388
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • food packaging
  • recycling
  • school nutrition
  • systems
  • waste management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'A Systems Examination of Food Packaging and Other Single-Use Item Waste in School Nutrition Programs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this