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Waste not, want not: Billings schools using high-tech scale to limit wasted food

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Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 22, 2024

BILLINGS — A high-tech food scale is the latest addition to Castle Rock Middle School's kitchen. It's all part of Billings Public Schools' plan to reduce food waste, as 20% of food in the district ends up at the landfill each year.

During lunch on Monday, the cooks at Castle Rock's kitchen are doing their best to provide the right amount of food for hundreds of students.
For 12-year-old Emily Shimamoto, vanilla ice cream is a favorite, and it's always a good day when pizza is on the menu.

“I usually bring a little extra just in case I am hungry so most of the time I don’t finish all of it,” Shimamoto said.

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Emily Shimamoto

She, of course, isn't alone when it comes to not finishing her food.

“Personally, I think I waste a lot of fruits that I get. I feel like everybody does once in a while, like, you’re not going to get away from it,” said 14-year-old Anneva Braun.

While Braun is right, that's something Billings Public Schools is trying to get away from.

“This is just an opportunity that came along to us and we wanted to jump on top of it and say, let’s get some more high-tech information, let’s get some better statistics to making big changes,” said Billings Public Schools' dietitian, Brittany Gage.

That high-tech information comes from a high-tech scale at Castle Rock Middle School. The goal is to reduce food waste.

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Brittany Gage

"It’ll calculate how much it’s going to cost the system, what the impact is going to be,” Gage said.

By weighing the excess food at the end of each lunch, the school can track exactly what's being tossed in the trash.

“We’re piloting at Castle Rock because this machine is extremely expensive. We're hoping as our waste goes down, we’re saving some money, so we can buy more,” said Gage.

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Hadley Mosser and Anneva Braun

The machine costs $5,000, but 13-year-old Hadley Mosser thinks it's a great investment.

"I think that's really good. It’s going to help the environment a lot. There’s a lot of kids that can use the extra food that we waste,” Mosser said.

It's also helping these middle schoolers be a little bit more mindful when deciding what to eat.

“Once you’ve touched it and once you’ve done with that, you can’t give it to someone else to eat. You’ve already contaminated it so you might as well just get what you’re going to eat,” said Mosser.