Last week, our blog discussed some of the benefits of managing cafeteria waste and launching a “Waste-Free Wednesdays” or “Litterless Lunches” program at your school. But starting a lunchtime waste reduction program is only the beginning! There are many lesson plans and classroom activities that can help teachers turn these programs into systemic, educational tools.
A great way to get students involved in these programs is to turn lunchtime waste reduction into a competition between grades. Before announcing the launch of a “Waste-Free Wednesday” or “Litterless Lunches” program, teachers or parent volunteers can begin weighting the amount of waste generated during each lunch period to establish a baseline. When the program is launched, share the results with students and challenge each grade to reduce their waste by the greatest percentage in the school. The winning grade can be rewarded with an extra recess period, which would also promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity.
To make the program more manageable and engaging, once it is launched teachers can supervise student as they weigh their lunch periods waste. Math classes throughout the school can get involved by keeping track of the weights, calculating the percentages, comparing them to those of other grade levels and by calculating the amount of money their family saves by reducing, reusing, and recycling over time . Science classes can study how long it takes different materials to decompose, what factors influence the rate of decomposition, and the impacts waste has on our environment. “Waste-Free Wednesday” and “Litterless Lunch” programs teach students the principles of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle and can be used to help develop environmental stewards in younger generations.
The following resources will help incorporate your “Waste-Free Wednesdays,” “Litterless Lunches,” or waste management program into your class lessons:
- “Nature Recycles: Shouldn’t We All” Lesson Plan & Online Activity – This lesson was prepared as a pre and post learning activity for a field study at Hard Bargain Farm or another environmental facility, but can also be used if teachers sort lunch waste as a part of a classroom activity. The pre-lesson utilizes online activities that include packing a digital “Trash Free Lunch, comparing and ranking lunches, and “Trash Sorting.” After the waste the class produced during lunch is sorted and weighed, the post-lesson activity instructs students to fill out a Lunch Trash Data Analysis Worksheet and to have a discussion about what they have learned.
- A Trash-Free Lunch Experiment: Measuring “Before” and “After” – This article and lesson plan from the National Council for Social Studies Middle Level Learning publication describe how students at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, VA conducted cafeteria “Trash Audits” that addressed content standards for social studies, science, health, and math.
- Biology Bottle: Decomposition Bottle – Have your students explore decomposition in a two liter soda bottle. This website provides instructions on how to construct a “Decomposition Column” and provides tips for how to use it as a teaching tool. Teachers can use this tool to teach about decomposition, waste management, recycling, and more
- EPA’s Did You Pack a Waste-Free Lunch Worksheet – This worksheet has students compare the reusable, recyclable, compostable, and waste materials in their lunches before and after the implementation of a cafeteria waste reduction program, and can be used to challenge them to individually reduce the amount of trash they generate.
- King County’s “A Waste Free Lunch” Lesson Plan – Students in Grades 1-6 will learn how they contribute to solid waste problems in this lesson. They will also observe the types of waste in their lunches and plan a lunch that yields less waste.
- NOAA’s Protect Our Ocean Activity Book – Activities in this book are designed to teach students in Grades K-3 about the ocean, why it is important, and marine debris. Through word searches, games, and coloring pages, students will also learn about Litterless Lunches, how long it takes trash to decompose in the ocean, and marine sanctuaries.
- Ocean and You Educator Resources: Sorting Trash – This lesson focuses on teaching students about how long it takes different types of trash to decay in the ocean. It also features some great posters illustrating the time it takes for marine debris to decay.
- Resourceful Schools Project K-12 Lesson Plans – This site contains eight lesson plans that address topics from natural resources to recycling and composting.
- EPA’s Teachers Resources on Waste – This website acts as a clearing house for EPA curriculum and activity resources that focus on waste. Resources are organized by school level (grades k-5, 6-8, and 9-12) to help teachers find lessons that are appropriate for their class.
- Clean Sweep USA Lesson Plans – These lesson plans for grades 6-8 address topics on waste management, source reduction, reducing volume in landfills, composting, recycling, waste-to-energy facilities, littering, and beautification.