Have you ever seen someone throw out a dish after eating only half of the food on it? It could be at a restaurant, in the park, or back when you were in school, but I’m sure we’ve all seen it or been a part of it—I know I haven’t always eaten 100 percent of the food in front of me. According to a study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), those scraps of food add up; in 2013, 74.12 billion pounds of food waste was produced in the United States. Only 5 percent (3.68 billion pounds) of this food waste was recovered, meaning that 70.44 billion pounds made its way into a landfill. For some perspective: That number means that food waste is responsible for a little over 20 percent of all municipal waste in the United States.

The sheer amount of food waste heading to landfills can definitely seem intimidating, but there is some good news: Across the country, schools are taking it upon themselves to step up their composting efforts.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, schools have been making a concerted effort to send as much food as possible to the compost pile instead of the trash pile. In particular, Sheridan Elementary School has been successful, composting 90 percent of its food waste since beginning their program. A big part has been through the efforts of the school’s staff—everyone from the principal to the teachers to the kitchen staff and custodians have been diligent in encouraging students to think about where their food ends up. Much of the food that the students compost ends up being used as a natural fertilizer, giving them tangible results to be proud of.

The EPA enacted a similar composting program in several Baltimore-area public schools back in 2011, with mixed results. Eight schools initially participated, but over the course of the year, a few of them dropped out. Despite that hurdle, the EPA reported that the participating schools ended up converting more than 34,000 pounds of waste into compost. One interesting result is that the EPA found lunch trays—and the food that is inevitably stuck to them—to be a huge factor in terms of conservation; schools that used compostable trays over polystyrene saw an extra 5.67 pounds of waste converted per student per month.

While we’re a long way away from totally removing those 70 billion pounds of food waste, it seems like more schools are trying to do their part. And who knows? Maybe if more students become as interested in recycling as those at Sheridan Elementary, we could see that number go way down in the future.

Did You Know?

In May 2015, a coalition of six of the nation’s largest school districts—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando—announced that they plan to switch from polystyrene lunch trays—which take hundreds of years to break down—to compostable ones. This will make a serious dent in their waste production, as these cities serve a combined 2.5 million meals every day.