Waste Free Lunches

The following article was sent in from Dave Burnett who is a project manager in Moseley Architects’ Charlotte office. The article is about efforts being made to green the cafeteria at New Town Elementary School.

What is a Waste Free Lunch Day? Waste Free Lunch Day is an initiative to teach the students the importance of limiting their contribution to landfill by reducing the amount of trash produced during a lunch sitting. This goal is achieved by the students bringing their lunch to school in only reusable containers eg.

• Lunch box instead of paper bag

• Reusable plastic sandwich box instead of baggie

• Reusable drink container instead of juice box

• Crackers/cookies/chips in a reusable plastic box rather than an individual packet

• Regular silverware instead of disposable plastic

• Cloth napkin rather than paper

There will be bins available for the kids to recycle plastic and paper items and to compost all organic leftovers. At the end of the lunch session, the number of trash bags produced will be compared to an average day and the total reduction extrapolated into the possible savings over a 180 day school year. If this experiment is successful, the goal is to make this a monthly event to reinforce the impact that a change in habits can produce.

Each day, our cafeteria produces an average of 27 large trash bags filled with largely unnecessary waste.   Plastic bags, paper bags, drink bottles and containers, wrappers and packages, plastic silverware and juice boxes, unopened food and leftovers.  Hundreds of individually packaged items become trash each day.  Our cafeteria currently generates 4,860 bags of trash per year, which equates to 5.2 bags per child per year.

This year, we decided to make a difference!

A small change to our lunch packing habits can make a big difference to the annual landfill contribution made our school.

After a preliminary audit, we were amazed to find how much food was being thrown away untouched.  Kids were throwing out unopened packs of chips, cookies, yogurts, cheese, milk cartons and even silverware – items which could be either returned home for use another day or some even donated to a local shelter or food bank.

Our cafeteria currently “loses” up to 200 forks a month – silverware just thrown into the trash rather than being returned to the counter for washing.  This is a perfectly preventable $50 a month expense and unnecessary contribution to landfill.

We set out with two goals; to reduce the amount of trash that we produce and to teach the kids how and why along the way.

Our first Waste Free Lunch day was on October 21st 2009.  We advertised our date using our school website, the kid’s agendas and the ConnectEd system.  We set out photos and examples of how to pack a “Waste Free Lunch” around the school.  We showed the kids how to use only reusable containers for their drink, sandwiches, snacks etc, how to bring a fabric napkin and to use reusable silverware instead of disposable.

The response from our New Town families and staff was FANTASTIC !  It was very exciting to see how many children had their lunches packed entirely in reusable containers – enabling them to create no waste at all for the day.

We composted leftovers, recycled plastic, donated unused food to a local women’s shelter and showed the kids where to put their forks.  Our final trash count? 10 bags.  17 less bags of trash produced than an average day and a 63% saving!  Imagine, 3,060 less bags every school year. Now that really would be making a difference!

Our next Waste Free Lunch Day is November 18th.

Our new goal: To make every day a Waste Free Day.

1 thought on “Waste Free Lunches

  1. Great post! My daughter’s school is also promoting waste-free lunches. We launched a Kids Konserve Waste-Free Challenge and loving the lunch kits that they sell. They are comprised of stainless steel containers, ss bottles, and an amazing food kozy – no more baggies or ziploc baggies.

    Check them out at http://www.kidskonserve.com

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