The first-of-its-kind environmental education curriculum is focused on sustainable habits that support climate mitigation

Rutgers University has been awarded $335,261 for “NJ Leaves No Bite Behind,” a two-year, state-funded project focused on educational interventions to reduce food waste in schools.

Rutgers will pilot this first-of-its-kind environmental education curriculum for K-12 in two schools in Ocean and Passaic counties to assess an interdisciplinary, experiential program focused on sustainable food habits that support climate mitigation. The schools will be tackling food waste as a school community and working towards fulfilling this requirement for fifth graders.

The Rutgers team includes:

  • Sara Elnakib, an educator with the Department of Family and Community Health Sciences
  • Virginia Quick, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the Department of Nutritional Sciences
  • Amy Rowe, county agent in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Essex County
  • Jennifer Shukaitis, an educator with the Department of Family and Community Health Sciences
  • Jeanine Cava, program coordinator with the Department of Family and Community Health Sciences

New Jersey became the first state in the nation to mandate climate change education for K-12 public schools. To achieve these standards, the state is funding programs developed by New Jersey higher education institutions related to demonstration, education or training about solid-waste reduction through its Recycling Enhancement Act Grant Program, which is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Food Waste team has been working on the issue of food waste in schools since 2017,” said Sara Elnakib, Department of Family and Community Health Sciences educator and department head, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Passaic County, who serves as principal investigator of the project. “When New Jersey became the first state to require public schools to include climate change education in the K-12 curriculum, the team saw this as an opportunity to expand our work.”

"This project will create important new resources for schools and will make the connection to food waste, which is one of the important drivers of, and solutions to, climate change,” said Randall Solomon, director of Sustainable Jersey and The Sustainability Institute at the College of New Jersey.

Solomon was co-chair of the Climate Change Education Thought Leader Committee convened by the New Jersey School Boards Association and Sustainable Jersey to develop a comprehensive plan to implement the new statewide standards.

“Teaching climate change can be challenging, however by embedding it in a food systems framework, students should be able to more easily grasp the concepts,” Elnakib said.

The “NJ Leaves No Bite Behind” curriculum will include videos, animations, interactive games, and in-person lesson plans and activities. All resources will be available on a dedicated website for teachers and parents to use the tools in their own classrooms or at home.

New Jersey has been on the frontlines of food waste reduction efforts, beginning in 2017 when the state legislature passed the Food Waste Reduction Act, which established a goal of reducing food waste by half by the year 2030. Food production accounts for approximately 16 percent of the United States’ energy use, nearly 50 percent of its land use, and 67 percent of freshwater consumption. But an astonishing 40 percent of America’s food supply goes uneaten, wasted or is thrown away annually. Rotting food waste produces the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, according to the researchers