LAUNCH Lessons:
Lunchtime Sorting K-5th

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 just toss your lunch tray in the garbage – learn how to sort your trash instead!

Do you ever wonder where your leftover lunch items go? You’ve just finished your lunch and all that is left on your tray is an empty milk carton, a plastic wrapper, a plastic container, and other trash items. Use this Lunchtime Sorting toolkit to sort through recyclables, food, and rubbish and decide the fate of your waste!

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

Why It's Important

Our landfills are filling up at an alarming rate often with resources that can be reused, recycled, composted, donated, or not even used in the first place. We are running out of space to put waste in our landfills, which is one reason it’s important to reduce the amount we produce.

What You Will Accomplish

Lunchtime sorting inspires students to take action by creating and using stations that will help your schoolmates recycle some of their waste.

Educator Project Plan

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

Track your metrics and submit your impact after implementing this toolkit. Your feedback helps keep our programs free for all across the globe.

Determine Participants

Use our Lunchtime Sorting Sign-Up Sheet to create your team!

  • A Student Group such as (a club, before/after school program, non-school organization)
  • A whole class
  • The whole school
  • Working with a small group of students? Set up one sorting station with fewer options
  • Working with a bigger team? Set up a large sorting station with many options
  • Is your whole school involved? Set up multiple sorting stations with every option possible

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 you can put lunchtime sorting stations.
  • What kind of trash do you see? What type of sorting bins should you make?
  • Why do you think some people don’t sort their trash?
  • Why is sorting trash important for the environment?

Take Action: How to LAUNCH Lunchtime Sorting Stations

Lead students through the “Lunchtime Sorting” activity with guided instructions. Check out “Pro Tips” with each step for useful help:

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

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.

3. Design Your Sorting Station Plan

  • Think about what type of sorting stations you would like to create.
    • 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 those 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.

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.

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!

6. Let People Know

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.

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.

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?

Student Reflection

  • What were some great things that happened during your project?
  • What could you do to get more people involved next time?
  • What other ways could you keep trash away from landfills?
  • Which sorting station was used the most? In other words, what was the most commonly sorted item?

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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