Switching to serving milk from a bulk dispenser into reusable cups is a simple way for schools to drastically cut the enormous waste currently generated by the approximately 275 million single-serve cartons of milk dispensed to K-12 students every school day,. To help schools transition to using bulk milk dispensers, the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) nonprofit has launched Bulk Milk, a program through which school districts anywhere in the U.S. can apply now for a grant to receive nearly all of the equipment, materials, and training needed to implement a bulk milk serving system.
Early adopters of bulk milk dispensers have seen impressive results, CAF argues, citing Canby School District in Oregon as an example, where it says the district eliminated approximately 50% of its school lunch waste volume. In another example, Bluestone Elementary in Virginia saw a 91% reduction of milk packaging waste volume when it moved to using a bulk milk dispenser.
Waste also comes from milk students don't drink, CAF adds, noting that approximately 45 million gallons of milk get poured down drains at schools each year, wasting the environmental and financial resources that went into producing, transporting, cooling, and storing it. By switching to a bulk milk system that allows students to pour themselves only the amount of milk they want to drink, schools could save 30 pounds of carbon dioxide per student annually—the equivalent of taking 145,000 gas-powered vehicles off the road—CAF estimates.
Another benefit of the bulk dispensers may be increased milk consumption, suggests Rita Denton, director of student nutrition at Mansfield Independent School District in Texas. "Since switching to bulk milk, we've noticed increases in consumption," she notes. "The kids love the taste and enjoy drinking from a cup instead of a carton."
Denton's experience is backed by a wider study on school milk waste and consumption, which found that bulk milk dispensers help improve taste through better temperature regulation. "Dispenser milk is always cold and delicious," says Chef Ann Cooper, founder of the Chef Ann Foundation and former director of food services at Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. "The equipment keeps it fresh, so kids like it better."
Finally, CAF says districts that have switched to bulk milk dispensers have also experienced financial benefits, leading to savings that could help schools switch from purchasing conventional to organic milk, ideally produced locally and from cows raised on pasture. "We are seeing savings from purchasing bulk milk instead of cartons of $285 per week at our pilot school," Denton notes.
School districts interested in learning more about Chef Ann Foundation's Bulk Milk grant program can register for a free informational webinar happening May 31 at 9 a.m. Mountain Time. Grant applications are due July 31.