The third national lockdown announced at late notice has left 15 million school dinners heading for the bin with tonnes of food ordered for the first week set to be wasted, according to one waste collector.
Some food is being diverted to other causes via food surplus networks, while other suppliers have taken to social media to give away fresh produce destined for schools this week. Cornish wholesaler Total Cornwall tweeted that it has 120,000 pieces of fruit to give away due to schools closing and that were already en route.
According to waste collection company, Business Waste, the amount of food waste caused by a sudden lockdown is “staggering”, with an estimated three million school meals served a day across the country.
A spokesperson for the company, which said it has been tasked with collecting much of the now surplus food, Mark Hall, said: “The government have well and truly let the schools down, they have allowed them to open and prepare for the weeks ahead, which of course means stocking the fridges high for this week’s school dinners and now those dinners are going in the bin.
“The schools simply don’t have the freezers required to store all the perishable food and that unfortunately will mean the vast majority is to be thrown away.
“The amount of food waste caused by a sudden lockdown is staggering – if they had been given warning then it could have been sent to other places, but now food banks will be overwhelmed and they typically only take non-perishable goods.”
Schools typically order food a week in advance, said Hall, and the vast majority do not have dedicated food waste bins. Devon-based food surplus charity, Food in Community, said it would usually supply some schools with fresh food but this has all been diverted to other community organisations.
Chief executive of national food charity FareShare, Lindsay Boswell, said: “Whilst we are yet to see an increase in the amount of surplus food diverted to us from the hospitality and food service sectors since the announcement of the lockdown and school closures, what we do know is that FareShare has more than doubled the amount of food distributed across the UK since March 2020, to over two million meals each week.
“Not only this, but in the first five months of 2020 we also saw a 715 per cent increase in the amount of food we redistributed from the food service industry – which includes commercial caterers supplying schools – onto frontline charities nationwide."
Schools are remaining open to the children of vulnerable or key worker parents, with limited provisions required. The government has said that all children who would usually receive free school meals will continue to do so.