The Business Case for Milk Dispensers in School Cafeterias

In February 2019, Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) School Nutrition implemented a new sustainable initiative in the school cafeteria of Bluestone Elementary School – milk dispensers. Instead of being offered a traditional eight-ounce carton of milk, students now use reusable cups to serve themselves from milk dispensers when moving through the lunch line.

Waste reduction is the major goal of the milk dispenser implementation. Milk cartons are not recyclable in the Harrisonburg area and are therefore being thrown away in the trash daily after use. Improved milk consumption and school lunch participation are secondary goals of the milk dispenser implementation. The following report details the implementation of the milk dispensers at Bluestone Elementary School including results of a pre and post implementation study detailing container and milk waste, changes in total milk consumption, and cost comparison.


Key Metrics

HCPS School Nutrition completed a pre- and post-dispenser waste analysis. According to the analysis, after milk dispenser implementation, students took 41% more milk, consumed 52% more milk and wasted 14% more milk. Although a larger volume of milk was wasted, overall milk waste of all milk taken daily decreased from 29% to 23%, and overall milk consumption increased from 71% to 77% of all milk taken daily.

Additionally, the switch to milk dispensers amounted to an overall 91% reduction of milk packaging waste by compacted volume and an 89% reduction of milk packaging waste by weight. Cost per serving decreased from $0.22 to $0.20 after the switch however estimated biweekly purchasing costs increased from $125.16 to $139.56. The school nutrition director will continue to monitor purchasing costs, in addition to milk consumption, for several months after implementation to more accurately determine post-dispenser differences. The school staff response to the implementation was overwhelmingly positive, with staff recommending other schools implement dispensers based on their experience.

Milk Dispenser Implementation:  Frequently Asked Questions

The implementation of a successful milk dispenser program requires the engagement of all stakeholders in a thoughtful planning process evaluating needs and desired outcomes.   Project planning includes selection of site location, equipment budgeting and purchasing, installation, and training and communication.  These FAQs will assist schools in preparing for the introduction of the milk dispenser program.

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