Sustainability and food waste

“We hold the future in our hands. Together, we must make sure that our grandchildren will not have to wonder why we failed to do so the right thing, and made them bear the consequences” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2007

Earth in Mind

Every year, a post-harvest period of food loss and waste in shops, households and catering services accounts for 30% of the food produced globally. This represents a loss of approximately 750 billion US dollars of food per year, based on producer prices. Retail sales are worth up to 1 trillion US dollars, double the gross domestic product of Norway. However, the total cost of food loss to the communities could reach $ 700 billion annually. This is because food loss causes damage related to climate change, the emission of greenhouse gases, the use of rain water, water scarcity, deforestation, and the erosion of the earth (WRAP, WHO, 2005).

Furthermore, losses worth 1 trillion US dollars have been caused by food that has not added any valuable in terms of human nutrition. It includes pesticides that affect human health, and the ongoing conflict over scarce food resources (Nelson et al., 2010; and Tubiello, 2007). This blog therefore aims to integrate sustainable development education into schools and develop initiatives that will enabling students to take advantage of wasted food, otherwise known as place- based education. This is a relatively new term that has only recently emerged in education and refers to educational methodologies that help students communicate with their world and achieve sustainability (Dewey, 1915)

My name is Maram and I work in the field of primary education, teaching science in one of the high-standard schools in Taif province, Saudi Arabia. Science is rich in information about the ecosystem, environmental conservation, and environmental sustainability. It also discusses the effect of waste degradation on the environment and the damage this causes to living organisms. However, most teachers teach science in a theoretical fashion without applying it to the daily lives of students. Protection of the environment is an important part of education and I believe that promoting sustainability within the context of teaching can be achieved by helping students understand the theory of place- based education and how this can be applied in schools.

One of the most prominent issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a belief in giving sustainable value to all members of society. This is in line with the new vision of Saudi Arabia 2030, where FAO reports show that approximately 3.9 million tons of food is wasted in the Kingdom, making it the worst place in the world in terms of food wastage (General Authority for Statistics, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). It is against this background that the idea of place- based education to support sustainable development emerged from among the contemporary 21st century trends adopted by the United Nations in 1987.

This type of education has received a substantial amount of attention in academic circles where efforts are being made to push education toward sustainability (FAO). As a response to this, the Edama project (in English this means “sustainability” project) was established to help educational institutions such as schools, universities, and other institutions encourage students and teachers to develop and implement sustainability initiatives. This project provides several activities for schools as well as training and supervision by specialists in sustainability, including a grounding in the relevant concepts (some of which are listed below).

  • Revisiting our lifestyle (co-living)
  • Minimisation (we live on a planet with limited resources)
  • Reuse (the things we throw away can have other uses)

The project provides several interactive activities related to sustainability and respect for the environment. For example, the environmental club or the annual green project is managed by students and, when applied to the primary stage, is a long-term project with a lasting impact that facilitates lifelong learning. The organisation is managed by experts who supervise the students weekly or by conducting monthly follow-up visits to the supervising teachers. One of the most prominent projects involves converting food to compost for use in agriculture.

Students collect the waste food from the school, place it in private containers, add the bran and then leave it for a month. After this time has elapsed, students are able draw upon a supply of liquid fertiliser and create a grove to produce organic food (Edama). The project aims to raise environmental awareness among the students and train them in skills related to agriculture. It also aims to develop their aesthetic sense, show them to exploit all resources in a sustainable fashion, and develop the spirit of scientific research, experimentation and creativity among students. They will also be taught about key ideals and principles such as the equality of generations, poverty reduction, and the conservation of natural resources.

This will provide students with the knowledge and experience necessary to preserve the environment (Orr, 1994). Through this project, the idea of place-based education will have been realised and students will have adopted an experimental approach toward supporting their local environment. This form of outdoor education complements what they have been taught in the classroom, which tends to be dominated by electronic media (Knapp, 1996). Instruction is directed towards developing students who are therefore willing to live in their environment without destroying it (Orr, 1994).

Finally, many scholars have talked about enabling schools to become the means of education for sustainable development. Curricula can be rebuilt to support sustainability at a classroom level. Teachers can begin this process by linking their environment with their school and the concept of sustainability. I was inspired by this idea and a book (Education for Sustainable Development Sourcebook) that was published in 2012 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The book was translated into Arabic by Dr. Hanan Ankadi, Higher Education Advisor at the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO, so that school students could benefit from a range of ideas and views on sustainability. It provides the materials that can be used by teachers and students and thus establish the theory underpinning place-based education.



Dewey, J. (1915). The school and society (Rev. ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Nelson G.C., Rosegrant M.W., Palazzo A., Gray I., Ingersoll C., Robertson R., et al. (2010). Food security, farming, and climate change to 2050: scenarios, results, policy options. Washington DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), p. 155

Knapp, C. E. (1996). Just beyond the classroom: Community adventures for interdisciplinary learning. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388 485)

Orr, D. W. (1994). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press

Tubiello F.N. (2007). Global food security under climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 104:19703–8.

WHO (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Health Synthesis: A Report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Geneva: World Health Organization.

WRAP. Literature Review—Relationship between Household Food Waste Collection and Food Waste Prevention, Project Code: RBC552-011. Available online: sites/files/wrap/Impact_of_collection_on_prevention_FINAL_v2_17_8_11.33a4f2d0.11159.pdf (accessed on 27 February 2015).