We have all come to depend on the many convenience products that are available to us, and nowhere is this more evident than in the school lunchroom. Many parents pack lunch items in single-use plastic bags, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap, or they purchase single-serving items in disposable packages. Admittedly, these products are convenient for busy families, but what is the environmental cost? Landfills are full and overflowing. Incinerators pump contaminants into the air. Communities battle over who will accept the nation’s trash. We all enjoy these conveniences, but few of us are willing to allow new landfills and incinerators to be built in our backyards.
Much of the trash we generate comes from food packaging. It has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school! A waste-free lunch program educates students, parents & school staff about where our trash ends up and how we can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs encourage the use of reusable food & drink containers, utensils, and napkins and discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes & pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils. Learn more about starting a waste free snack & lunch program at your school!
Tip: Also visit our National & State Green School Programs page to learn more about local and national Green School programs and resources to help you improve the health & sustainability of your school!
Before You Start
- Form an Action Team
- Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Video (9mins)
- Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Companion Guide
- Review: Getting Started - Which Can Do I Put This In?
Design and Preparation
- Conduct a General Environmental Review Checklist
- Preliminary Recycling & Waste Management Questions to Consider
- Conduct a Consumption & Waste Audit
- View a Model Program: Montgomery Co. School Energy & Recycling Team (SERT)
- Sample Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades K-5
- Blank Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades K-5
- Sample Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades 6-12
- Blank Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades 6-12
Using Your Project
- Participate in the Waste Reduction Challenge
- Join EPA's WasteWise Program
- Eco-School Consumption & Waste Pathway Lessons & Resources
- Eco School National Standards & Curriculum Alignment
- EPA Lesson Plans on Waste
- Design a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Science Fair Project
- Waste Reduction Curriculum & Activities (Green Education Foundation)
- Project Leaning Tree Solid Waste Curriculum
- EPA Planet Protectors Activities for Kids: Waste Reduction & Recycling
- (K-12) Books on Waste Reduction & Recycling (Green Education Foundation)
- Green Education Foundation: Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse
- Learning Lab Sustainability Lessons
- Project Learning Tree Curriculum Offerings
- Eco Schools Green STEM Initiative
Sharing Your Project
- Pack a Waste Free Lunch Poster
- Print & Share the Waste Free Lunchbox Pamphlet!
- Email the Waste Free Lunch Pamphlet
- Present a Waste Free Lunch Slideshow!
- Send Home Tips & Tools for Parents!
- Teachers: Start a Planet Protectors Club (EPA)
- Create Signs About Recycling & Waste Reduction
- Make Signs & Host a Celebration