Poster Topical Area: Community and Public Health Nutrition

Location: Auditorium

Poster Board Number: 30

P06-009 - Environmental, Economic, and Nutritional Costs and Opportunities of Shelf-Stable Dairy and Soy Milk in School Meals

Monday, Jun 11
8:00 AM – 3:00 PM


While fluid milk must be offered in federally-funded school meals, many children do not select it as part of their reimbursable meal. Previous research found 25% of cartons offered in Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) were discarded unopened because unopened milk cannot be returned to the refrigerator and offered at a later meal due to food safety concerns. The objective of this study is to determine the economic and environmental impacts of eliminating unopened milk waste by replacing conventional milk in BIC with shelf-stable dairy and/or soy milk, which can be offered at a later meal if unopened.


We calculated the climate change impact (kg CO2e) of shelf-stable dairy and soy milk in Tetra Pak packaging in BIC by adapting existing life cycle analysis estimates of dairy and soy milk production and end-of-life impacts from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Waste Reduction Model to BIC parameters. We then calculated the net impact of replacing conventional milk with shelf-stable dairy or soy milk assuming milk consumption would remain constant and no unopened milk waste. National impact estimates are based on 2015-2016 BIC participation and EPA estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per passenger vehicle mile traveled. We calculated the net cost under this wastage scenario using price estimates for the northeastern United States.


Nationally, eliminating unopened milk waste from BIC would save nearly 12 million gallons of milk per year. Replacing conventional dairy milk with shelf-stable dairy or soy milk and eliminating unopened milk waste would reduce GHG emissions by 26.8% (0.11 kg CO2e) or 81.2% (0.33 kg CO2e) per student per meal, respectively. Nationally, per year, this equates to driving 201 million or 610 million fewer miles, respectively. Such a change would come at a net cost increase of 1.9% ($0.005) or 59.4% ($0.163) per student per meal, respectively.


Shelf-stable dairy milk can yield considerable environmental benefit at a low cost. While soy milk is pricier, it is unlikely to be a large portion of milk served and can improve nutrition for students who do not consume dairy milk due to allergies, palatability, and/or cultural/religious reasons. Both shelf-stable dairy and soy milk can substantially reduce waste and concomitant GHG emissions in BIC.

Funding Source: JB was supported by an NIH Training Grant in Academic Nutrition (grant number T32DK0077).

CoAuthors: Stacy Blondin, PhD, MSPH – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Scott Richardson, MBA – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Eric Rimm, ScD – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Jacob P. Beckerman

PhD Student
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts