Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Rebecca K. Zarger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David A. Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.


Applied anthropology, Environmental education, Garbology, Interdisciplinary research, Sustainability


Waste as a topic for anthropological investigation has enjoyed a recent resurgence in interest, mirroring burgeoning discussion among policy-makers and the general public about questions of environmental impacts, economic costs, and social detriments of contemporary waste management paradigms. While waste management in the United States has largely focused on technical and organizational solutions typically considered the domain of environmental planning and engineering (such as source reduction, recycling, and reuse), anthropology and the social sciences have become more prominently involved in efforts to inform policy-makers and researchers about the social and behavioral factors influencing waste norms and habits, particularly in educational institutions and municipal governments.

The central questions to this research were as follows: (1) What are some of the perceptions and practices concerning food waste at an environmental charter elementary school in Florida? (2) What do self-reported data on food waste behaviors suggest about disposal habits and norms? (3) What is the extent to which food is discarded relative to other types of refuse? and (4) From the perspectives of school staff and students, what are some of the factors influencing food waste?

To answer these questions, I employed both "garbological" and ethnographic methods at an environmental charter school, Learning Gate Community School, over a period of nine months, including (1) participant observation, (2) garbological audits of the cafeteria waste stream, (3) key informant interviews with students and staff, and (4) log sheets sent home to a random sample of parents to gauge the fraction of leftovers taken home that are ultimately discarded in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the waste stream of the school cafeteria.

The results of this project support the following conclusions: (1) students at Learning Gate tend to agree that food waste is a detriment, but these concerns are subordinate to factors such as the degree of hunger at lunchtime and the perceived palatability of certain food items and (2) lunch periods are an important block of unstructured time, which Learning Gate students use for a far broader variety of activities than merely nourishment.