The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County and the Johnson Ohana Foundation partnered with Grades of Green to launch a “Trash Free Lunch Challenge” (TFLC) offered to schools within the Sanitation Districts. The challenge encouraged schools to focus on reducing lunchtime trash and also educated students about the 4Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Students were encouraged to bring their lunches in reusable containers and to use other reusable items, such as canteens and cloth napkins. Students who bought their lunches could participate by sorting waste into recycling and composting. “The goal of the program is to not only reduce trash at schools, but to educate kids, hoping they’ll develop positive recycling habits for a lifetime,” states Steve Maguin, Chief Engineer and General Manager of the Sanitation Districts.

Any school within the Sanitation Districts’ service area was eligible to participate. The first qualified twelve schools to register received an Eco Starter Kit worth more than $1,500 from Grades of Green, an Eco Audit by Grades of Green, and assistance developing a project plan to implement a Trash Free Lunch Program at their school. The twelve schools then participated in a training session, where they were instructed on how to implement a Trash Free Lunch and Composting Program at their school and also got to tour a landfill and recycling facility. Principals, teachers, parent volunteers, and students all participated in the training session and left feeling optimistic about reducing trash at their schools. The twelve schools then implemented the Trash Free Lunch Program from November, 2011 to March 15, 2012 and then submitted their results to Grades of Green. Collectively, these schools reduced their lunchtime trash by over 71%, diverting over 11,000 bags from landfills!

After careful evaluation, 3 schools were chosen as the finalists: Coast Christian in Redondo Beach, Trinity Lutheran in Whittier, and Jefferson Elementary in Redondo Beach. A panel of environmental experts visited each school to assess the implementation and success of the programs. The judging panel included Anna Cummins, Co-Founder of 5 Gyres, Marieta Francis, Executive Director of Algalita, Jenni Tayor, Principal of the Environmental Charter High School, Rupam Soni , Senior Environmental Engineer at Sanitation District of Los Angeles County, and Jessica Scheeter, Executive Director of the Johnson Ohana Charitable Trust.

After visiting all three schools, the judges announced Jefferson Elementary School as the winner of the Trash Free Lunch Challenge. On Tuesday, April 18, all three schools attended an awards ceremony at Jefferson Elementary School. Nolan Gould, actor on Modern Family, presented the Chevron education grants to each school. The winning school received a Grand Prize of a $1,000 education grant, and the two finalists received at $500 education grant.

The first Trash Free Lunch Challenge was a huge success as over 5,000 students were educated; the schools saved over $2,000 by reducing the number of trash bags used, and on average 70 bags of trash will be diverted from the landfills each day thanks to these schools. Since the first Trash Free Lunch Challenge was such a success, Grades of Green and the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County will be collaborating to host the 2012-2013 Trash Free Lunch Challenge and look forward to seeing what schools can accomplish this time.

For more information visit the Trash Free Lunch Challenge Webpage.

Also, check out all the articles about the Trash Free Lunch Challenge in numerous local papers.