Millions of school dinners heading for the bin after government U-turn

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·3 min read
A pupil eats her cooked hot dinner during her lunch break in the canteen at St Luke's Church of England Primary School in East London on September 3, 2020. - Pupils in Britain have on Thursday begun to return to schools for the first time since they were all closed in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
A pupil eats her cooked hot dinner during her lunch break. (AFP via Getty Images)

An estimated 15 million school dinners will have to be thrown out under a third national lockdown, a waste collection firm has warned.

It comes as Boris Johnson announced a full national lockdown, including the closure of all schools in England - just as term was set to start.

Schools that had ordered a full week’s worth of dinners in advance – before the lockdown announcement – will now be forced to discard them.

National waste collections company BusinessWaste.co.uk said it has been tasked with collecting the mountains of "perfectly good although ultimately perishable food”.

Read: The extraordinary omission from Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement

Spokesperson Mark Hall said: "This is a national disaster, 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"

Tables are marked showing where children can sit during dinner time at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. Nursery and primary pupils could return to classes from June 1 following the announcement of plans for a phased reopening of schools. (Photo by Jacob King/PA Images via Getty Images)
Empty tables in the school canteen at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. (PA Images via Getty Images)

BusinessWaste.co.uk said three million school meals are served each day – each costing £2 – and are typically ordered a week in advance.

This could also mean that £30m worth of school dinners will go to waste.

Hall added that the vast majority of schools did not have dedicated food waste bins, which could divert the food waste to an anaerobic digestion plant.

Watch: COVID-19: Students ‘worried’ as schools close in third lockdown

He said that millions of dinners will end up rotting in a landfill instead.

Speaking during a televised statement on Monday, the prime minister gave an overview of the new blanket restrictions imposed on England.

These include people staying at home except for essential medical need, shopping for food, exercising once a day or working if it cannot be done from home.

Meanwhile, all schools, but not nurseries, were told to close. Johnson said some exams will be cancelled as a result of the closures, with “alternative arrangements” being organised.

He also said that pupils entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them.

Read: England's streets deserted after Boris Johnson's announcement of third lockdown

It comes as two-thirds of Brits think Johnson has handled school openings badly, according to a YouGov poll.

Some 38% of respondents thought that the government handled the issue of opening or closing schools during the coronavirus outbreak “very badly”, while 31% felt it was handled “fairly badly”.

Those polled included people across all major political parties, ages and regions.

Yahoo News has contacted the Department for Education for comment.

Watch: COVID-19: A breakdown of the Number 10 coronavirus updates in 2020