LAUNCH Lessons:
Lunchtime Sorting 6th-12th

This toolkit address the following Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) within the Performance Expectations of NGSS for Grades: K-2 and 3-5

  • Asking Questions and Defining a Problem
  • Planning and Carrying out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Obtaining Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Students will analyze their daily habits to see where they can reduce their waste, energy, and water usage.

Project Management

  • Students will keep track of how many resources they are saving.
  • Students will practice leadership skills by delegating tasks to each other.

Evaluation and Assessment
Students will track and evaluate the impact of their project.

Table of Contents

Stop! Don’t toss that lunch tray – learn how to sort it instead!

You’ve just finished your lunch and you have leftover waste such as your tray, milk carton, plastic wrapper, plastic container, and other trash items. Do you ever wonder where each of these items go? If you want to decide the fate of your waste, use our Lunchtime Sorting toolkit to sort through recyclables, food, and rubbish!

Within this toolkit, you’ll find various downloadable resources. For your convenience, you can access them all in one place by clicking on this link to view them in a Google Drive folder.

Toolkit Details

What is Lunchtime Sorting?

In order to reduce the amount of waste in landfills, it is important to sort out recyclables with their respective processing facility. This reduces the amount of trash in the environment and allows us to reuse valuable resources.

What You Will Accomplish

Students take action by creating lunchtime sorting stations that will enable their peers to recycle some of their waste.

Where Does Your Trash Go?

The resources provided can be shown as a slideshow or printed out as individual worksheets for students to learn.

We Create A LOT of Trash!

How much do you weigh? Each school year,  the average American student creates close to 67 pounds of lunch packaging waste. That’s more than 18,000 pounds of plastic, paper, and other non-food materials for just one normal sized elementary school. Reducing trash in landfills is important because it reduces the amount of resources used by landfills and incinerators. [1]

Waste Causes Greenhouse Gas Emissions!

Fossil fuels are mainly used for both the international production of our packaging and disposal of our waste. These fossil fuels give off greenhouse gasses that make Earth hotter and lead to climate change. In 2019, landfills alone produced 91 million metric tons of CO2 in the United States. That’s the same weight as 455,000 blue whales! [2]

Landfills HURT Our Environment

Landfills have a lot of negative effects on our environment including releasing greenhouse gas emissions in the air, making our groundwater dirty, cutting down trees, and reducing the health of soil. Furthermore, biodiversity often decreases with 30-300 species being displaced for every hectare used for landfills. [3]

Why Waste is a Social Justice Issue

Waste is often classified as an environmental justice issue due to the inequalities that exist between low and high income communities. Wealthy neighborhoods are often given more resources to manage waste while disenfranchised communities are frequently left with inefficient provisions to maintain a clean living environment. Furthermore, the same communities with lower incomes are usually placed in close proximity to waste management facilities where additional pollution burdens individuals.

Watch this short video to learn why it’s important to have less trash

Think About It!

Pre-Activity Questions

  • Describe places in your school or community where lunchtime sorting stations can be placed.
  • What are the most common types of waste you see? What type of different sorting bins should you make?
  • Why do you think individuals forgo sorting their trash?
  • Why is sorting waste important for the environment?

Take Action: How to LAUNCH Lunchtime Sorting Stations

Follow the steps below to set up a successful Lunchtime Sorting Station at your school! Need help? Contact us!

Step 1: Assign Roles

  • Determine who and how many students/staff/volunteers are participating.
  • Invite participants to take part in managing lunch sorting responsibilities.
  • Use the Lunchtime Sorting Sign-Up Sheet to track additional participants

Step 2: Conduct a Pre-Audit

To understand how waste is managed at your school, it is important to conduct a pre-audit; this can be completed with the Lunchtime Sorting Pre-Project Audit worksheet. Keep note of what you analyze and compare them with your final statistics at the end of the campaign.

Step 3: Design Your Sorting Station Plan

  • Do students eat lunch scattered across campus?
    • The best course of action may be to include less sorting categories in multiple locations, such as pairing all trash bins with a recycle bin. 
  • Do students eat in a designated location(s)?
    • The best course of action may be to have multiple sorting bins in one area. (See the list of receptacle suggestions below)
  • Figure out what type of sorting stations you would like to implement
    • Examples of sorting station elements include:
      • Recycle
        • Plastic bottles, clean plastic containers, metal cans, glass
      • Liquids
        • For leftover milk, water, juice, etc. so the empty container can be recycled (all liquids can be dumped down a custodial drain)
      • Stack Trays 
        • Stacking trays reduces the amount of space used in a landfill
      • Food Donation
      • Compost
      • Landfill
        • All other items including items contaminated with food, flimsy plastic wrappers, chip bags, baggies, small plastics like utensils and straws, etc. 
  • Determine the location of your sorting station(s)
    • Look at a map of your school. Determine where sorting stations should be placed.

Get in Contact
Reach out to your local waste hauler to see what resources they accept for recycling.

Separate the Elements
Add a strainer to your liquids bucket/bin to filter out any accidental solids dropped into the liquids bucket. Remind kids to pour out liquids close to the top of the bucket so it doesn’t splash on them or their friends!

“Tray”ed Them In
Contact your school’s tray manufacturer to see if they collect used trays for recycling.

Step 4: Present Your Plan

Present your sorting station plan to the right administration/staff members and educate them about why sorting stations are important for waste reduction. Also, ask individuals like your principal, vice principal, or head custodian for materials to make your plan happen! This can include trash cans, buckets, boxes, and trash bags.

Step 5: Prepare Your Materials

Gather your sorting station supplies. This can include:

  • Paper
  • Writing utensils/Art supplies
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Trash cans
  • Trash bags
  • Buckets
  • Boxes

Start making your sorting stations! Click here for some examples and here for signs you can print out!

Step 6: Let People Know

Inform and let people know about your sorting project! You can do this by conducting a walking assembly and presenting the provided Lunchtime Sorting Walking Assembly Script to your classmates.

Step 7: Set a Schedule

Use our Lunchtime Sorting Organizer worksheet to set up a schedule for participants to monitor the sorting stations. If you have multiple stations, have a schedule for each station.

Step 8: Sort It Out

Now it’s time to put all your hard work into practice! Set up your lunchtime sorting stations and start your campus sorting. Use our Lunchtime Sorting Post-Project Audit worksheet to track your group’s progress. Collect sheets weekly to keep track of your impact.

Reflection Questions

How’d It Go?

  • What were some small wins that happened during your project?Examples: got creative, met my lifelong friends, reduced landfill trash
  • What could you do to up your game next time?Examples: have more sorting stations, get more people involved, use stations throughout the whole school day
  • What other ways could you divert trash away from landfills?Examples: trash free lunch, composting, food rescue
  • Which sorting station was used the most?Examples: recycling, stack trays, liquids

Report Students’ Impact

Congratulations!! You’ve implemented Lunchtime Sorting! Don’t let all that hard work go unnoticed. Submit your results by clicking the button below.

Project ongoing? No problem! Let us know what you’ve done so far. 

By reporting your impact, Grades of Green can:

  • CELEBRATE and elevate your students’ hard work and success. 
  • Offer our programs FREE for all students across the globe. 
  • AWARD stipends and certificates to hard-working educators and students.

Please take a few minutes to submit your results. Thank you!

Congrats on completing the Lunchtime Sorting Eco-Toolkit! 

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