Want to reduce waste emitted during lunch time? Consider replacing single-use plastics and containers with reusable containers, reusable water bottles, utensils, and cloth napkins. You can go the extra mile by helping others at school reduce their waste by keeping track of the single-use items being used and handed out during lunch time by following these steps.
ESTABLISH YOUR SCHOOL’S GRADES OF GREEN TEAM. Ensure your school has established a Grades of Green Team to help implement Grades of Green’s Trash Free Lunches Activity and any other Grades of Green Activities your school takes on in the future.
SET GOALS AND START TRACKING. What do you want to accomplish by implementing Grades of Green’s Trash Free Lunches Activity? Whether it’s setting a goal of the number of students involved or the number of bags of trash reduced, set a goal and begin tracking your progress so you know when it’s time to CELEBRATE! Record your starting data before beginning so you know when you’ve accomplished your goal. We recommend counting the number of bags of landfill trash created every day at lunchtime, and counting the number of students who bring a lunch compared to those who get their lunch at school. You can fill out the “before” column in Grades of Green’s Waste Metrics Chart to help you keep track of your starting data.
BONUS: Does your school have lots of students who receive their lunch from the café? If so, consider pairing the Trash Free Lunches Activity with the Lunchtime Waste Sorting Station Activity to make an even bigger impact!
SHARE WITH YOUR SCHOOL!Make sure your school community knows you’re implementing Grades of Green’s Trash Free Lunches Activity, as well as the positive impact this Activity will have on your school community. Share facts about why Trash Free Lunches are important over the morning announcements, and add the facts to bulletin boards around campus, your school’s electronic newspaper or take-home packets to inspire, students, families and teachers at your school to get involved.
RECRUIT VOLUNTEERS. Setting up and maintaining trash free lunches is an ongoing effort and will require multiple volunteers to help monitor the students’ progress. When looking for volunteer trash free lunch monitors, make sure you ask potential volunteers in person. Look for students who seem to care about the environment and would like to see a program like this implemented at your school. If you need additional support, consider asking parents, noon aides and staff if they’d like to help too. Possible clues are people who garden, compost, recycle or show some type of green interest.
Looking for extra help? Ask students who are members in other clubs on campus, such as Student Council, Green Club, Garden Club, etc. to get involved in assisting with waste sorting station set-up and education.
EDUCATE YOUR VOLUNTEERS AND SCHOOL COMMUNITY. Make sure your volunteers understand what a trash free lunch consists of, so they can help educate others.
You can also educate students in a fun way using the Grades of Green Trashy Trivia Quiz Cards, which are available to download in our downloadable resources tab on the left column. You can also have the teachers explain the Activity to the students or you can demonstrate and educate at a school-wide assembly to introduce the concept. Grades of Green has a walking assembly script with a section for reducing waste for students who want to go from classroom to classroom to teach students about trash free lunches as well as educational videos.
You can send out information about the Trash Free Lunches Activity in your school’s newsletter, Facebook page, twitter, etc., so parents can help their kids pack trash free lunches. You can share flyers explaining why students should pack trash free lunches (also available in Spanish by clicking here) and how to pack a trash free lunch.
KICK OFF THE ACTIVITY! Set a starting date to implement the Trash Free Lunches Activity. Hand stamps are a great, inexpensive, and environmentally-friendly reward for students packing a trash free lunch or using a reusable container. You can use this artwork or this artwork to order stamps online. Click here to order stamps.
You will want to pick one day a week or more to have volunteers come to lunch to stamp the students’ hands packed trash free. You can use our Grades of Green Team schedule template to stay organized, and also check out examples of other schools’ volunteer schedules. While you stamp the students’ hands, ask them questions such as “How can you make your lunch more trash free?” Students enjoy the interaction and, before you know it, they will be going home and quizzing their families!
Often times, you will see students who think they have packed trash free but still have landfill items in their lunch such as plastic baggies, wrappers or juice boxes. In these cases, we recommend giving the stamp, but gently educating the student by saying something like, “A plastic water bottle can be reused, but it’s even better if you can use a reusable water bottle!” Always be positive and encouraging. Remember, the goal is to make students feel great about their contribution – every shade makes a difference.
KEEP IT GOING. Try to schedule trash free lunches student volunteers monthly, weekly, or even every day at lunch if possible.
Create excitement through contests and games. A great way to get students to participate is to plan fun activities to generate excitement and promote a friendly competition. You can:
-Set up a contest between grade levels to see which lunch period packs the most trash free lunches or reusable items. Make sure you establish the rules beforehand – are items that are normally recycled but can be reused (ex: plastic water bottles) considered trash free? Do lunches have to be completely trash free or are students encouraged to simply bring one trash free item? This will help you avoid confusion the day of the contest. Have some older Grades of Green Team student volunteers help count and then announce the winners. The winners could get their picture in the yearbook or local paper (both free and environmentally friendly rewards). You can even allow the winners to watch a movie during lunch which you can set up in an empty classroom, or offer extra recess time! If you have any other ideas for rewards, we would love to hear them.
- Play music when the student volunteers are stamping hands to keep packing trash free lunches fun.
- Set up educational games during lunch. For example, bring a bag full of things that are lunchtime trash, and challenge students to figure out ways they could make it trash free. For example, a paper lunch bag can be replaced with a reusable lunch box, and a paper napkin can be replaced with a cloth napkin. You can time them while the students sort the items for added fun. Have your Green Team walk around the tables and quiz the students – they’ll love it!
- Encourage the students to come up with ways to educate other students on how to pack a trash free lunch.
ENCOURAGE THE USE OF REUSABLE LUNCH CONTAINERS. Trash free lunchboxes, containers, and bottles are a great way to make it easier to pack a trash free lunch. Selling trash free items can be a great fundraising opportunity for your school. Research some eco-friendly companies and see if they would be willing to donate reusable items. We recommend companies such as Go Green Lunchboxes, Dabbawalla Bags, U Konserve, Klean Kanteen, Dopper, and PlanetWise.
MEASURE THE RESULTS. Fill out the “after” column in the Grades of Green Waste Metrics Chart that you filled out when you first started implementing the Trash Free Lunches Activity. Remember that goal you set earlier? How’d it go? How many students participated and how many bags of waste did your school divert from landfills? You can estimate how many pounds of waste was diverted from landfills by multiplying the number of trash bags by 20 as the average weight of a full 32-gallon trash bag is between 20-25 pounds.
PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK! Reward your school’s Grades of Green Team members who helped make this eco-victory possible. Whether it’s through a pat on the back, announcing the Grades of Green Team accomplishments over the loud speaker, throwing a Popsicle party, etc., reward the people who volunteered their time to make this possible. Are there standout eco-superstars on your Grades of Green Team? Email Grades of Green here and we’ll see if we can find some extra ways to acknowledge and reward them on our website, in our e-newsletter and on social media. If you’re in Southern California, invite your student eco-superstars to apply for Grades of Green’s Youth Corps Eco-Leadership Program.
CELEBRATE AND SHARE THE RESULTS! Congratulations! You completed Grades of Green’s Trash Free Lunches Activity for your school and we couldn’t be prouder. You helped inspire and empower students to care for the environment, and the Earth is just that much better off as a result! Email us the results you achieved, photos or videos of your completed Trash Free Lunches campaign and tag @gradesofgreen on social media so we can help share your story. And don’t forget to also let your school district and city government know about your great and green accomplishments.
MAKE IT SUSTAINABLE. What can you do to make this Activity sustainable at your school for years to come? Brainstorm with your Grades of Green Team ways to make the Activity sustainable and part of your school’s everyday culture. We suggest making Grades of Green positions permanent, as well as adding tips and suggestions to your PTA/PTO or volunteer handbook and adding a date to the calendar now to reeducate students next year.
Benefit to Students
Students build awareness that their actions make a difference when they see the school trash decrease. When students pack a trash free lunch and sort their trash, they learn how to make this planet a better place by reducing, reusing and recycling.
Benefits to the Environment
By diverting trash, there are many benefits to the environment, such as less trips by the waste hauler for pick-ups, which decreases air emissions and gasoline, less waste in the land-fill, and the biodegradable trash will be composted to “black gold” or natural fertilizer for the school plants.
The school will save money by cutting back on the amount of trash being picked up by your waste hauler. They will also reduce the amount of trash bags and the time of the janitorial staff. Make sure to get a baseline count of how many trash bags your cafeteria is using at the start of the program. Then check to see if your trash has decreased as a result of the Trash Free Lunch program and if you are able to have fewer pick-ups by your waste hauler. The program estimates a 50% decrease in school lunch trash and will save the school money by having to purchase less trash bags. The average trash bag liner costs $.26 so every bag of trash that is diverted per day at the cafeteria saves approximately $50.00 per year in liners.