The UK education sector, which includes nurseries, schools, colleges and universities, generates 123,000 tonnes of food waste every year at a cost of £250m.
An independent study commissioned by the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) found 336 tonnes of food waste is produced by the sector each day.
TUCO gathered insights from caterers, chefs and managers from across the country and found 74% of respondents want more regulation to tackle the problem.
Another key finding of the research is the need to challenge and change the attitudes of both staff and students when it comes to today's ‘throwaway' food culture.
Data revealed more than half (52%) of university customers leave food on their plate despite 100% of student respondents agreeing it is important to reduce food waste.
One site has worked on communicating to students that they can return for more food instead of overloading their plate, which has seen food waste reduce from 25-30kg per night to 10-15kg.
Research showed that 95% of staff said they engaged in food waste reduction initiatives, with 56% of staff unhappy with how food waste was collected.
TUCO's report also highlighted that there is no single, joined-up response to the UK-wide problem of food waste. It showed a lack of clear legislation in England has left caterers behind their Scottish and Welsh counterparts.
Scotland recently announced a food waste reduction target of 33% by 2025; the first nation in Europe to do so.
Mike Haslin, TUCO's chief operating officer, said: "TUCO is committed to supporting not only its members, but the wider foodservice sector, to drive forward-thinking approaches to the way we manage our resources.
"This study shows, for the first time, the true picture of the challenge the education sector faces in tackling food waste.
"TUCO members are already setting the agenda with practical solutions, which we hope the rest of the industry will learn from and which will help drive sustainability policy on campuses everywhere."
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