Pupils putting their food waste into the school wormery at Seaton Primary School. Image courtesy of Ashden Award, Creative Commons
In 2009, Americans produced about 243 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), or trash that is commonly used then thrown away. MSW can be made up of things that come from our homes, hospitals, businesses, and schools, such as packaging, grass clippings, furniture, paint, batteries, appliances, clothes, food scraps, and newspapers. According to the EPA’s report on MSW Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States in 2009, on average, every American produced about 4.3 pounds of waste per day.
In our schools, this waste can come from many sources and activities, including lunches. There are many fun, educational ways that we can work to reduce the amount of waste that is generated in school cafeterias. One great idea teachers and schools can promote is “Waste-Free Wednesdays” or “Litterless Lunches.” Schools that have “Waste-Free Wednesday” programs encourage parents and students to pack Wednesday lunches that do not produce any trash while “Litterless Lunches” can be conducted throughout the week. Both programs encourage students to reduce food scraps, eliminate disposable packaging materials, and encourage the use of reusable utensils, napkins, and food and drink containers. Schools themselves are also encouraged to decrease the waste that is produced from school-sold lunches, for example, by replacing disposable Styrofoam trays with reusable ones.
Cafeteria waste reduction programs have many benefits. They can be used to start composting initiatives, so students do not have to count apple cores and banana peels as a part of the waste they generated. Student participation in school recycling programs may increase as a result of effective initiatives. Reducing the amount of waste that is produced in the cafeteria can also help reduce the amount of money school systems have to spend on waste management.
Here are some great resources to help you start a “Waste-Free Wednesdays” or “Litterless Lunches” program at your school:
- WasteFreeLunches.org – Learn about the basics of waste free lunches, success stories, case studies, research, and tools for change on this website. The website also features tips for parents who want to get their families involved in reducing lunchtime waste.
- EPA’s Pack a Waste-Free Lunch Website – This resource includes a waste-free lunch poster, three poster activities, tips for getting parents involved (including a sample letter to inform parents about the initiative), and a list of additional resources.
- Rethinking School Lunches – This guide from the Center for Ecoliteracy aims to help “improve school food, teach nutrition, support sustainable food systems, and create and education program focused on understanding the relationships between food, culture, health, and the environment.” The guide also includes a waste management chapter.
- EPA’s Waste Educational Materials – This website refers teachers to sites that provide them with basic facts about waste, information on composting and recycling, curriculum and activities, and student awards and grants. The website also features programs including Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools, Schools Chemical Cleanout, and Eco-Schools USA.
Stay tuned: Next week, we will share some resources to help you incorporate your cafeteria’s waste management program into your classroom lessons!