HomeThe CSWD BlogGeneral TopicsZero waste lunches: A little lighter in the sack

Zero waste lunches: A little lighter in the sack

Landfill in Coventry, VT
This is where lunch waste ends up: In a mountain of trash at the landfill in Coventry, VT.

The average student sends 68 pounds of lunchbox trash to the landfill each year—and that’s just single-use wrappers, juice boxes, bags, utensils, cups, bowls, and the like.

Multiply that by thousands of students and 180 days a year, and…well, where’s a 6th grader when I need one? Let’s just say this: It adds up pretty darn fast.

Simple changes like these can make a huge difference in your wallet and your landfill footprint:

  • Use & reuse: Reusable containers reduce the number of single-use plastic baggies you have to buy and your kids have to send to the landfill
  • Buy in bulk and save money: Single-serving products can cost many times more
  • Clean your aluminum foil and use it again—put it in the recycling bin when it’s worn out
  • Use reusable water bottles: They’re cheaper than bottled water
  • Use a cloth napkin to reduce paper waste
  • Reuse plastic utensils or use metal and wood utensils instead
  • Challenge your family to say NO to drinking straws!
  • Squeeze your own yummy juices and lemonade at home (you can even freeze some in a bottle to double as a cold pack)
  • Ask your child to bring home what they don’t eat—you can always re-pack it the next day or compost the leftovers. Besides, it’s good to know what they are NOT eating at school to avoid wasting foods they just won’t eat.

To some busy parents, it’s a tough but compelling argument to make in the face of the convenience of tossing Go-Go Squeez, a bag of chips, and a Lunchables in a bag. But the savings in time does come at a cost to the well-being of your kids and the planet.

Here’s how five schools in California made it happen

Reusable lunch containers and silverware spread out on a table.
Photo by Lindsay Miles.

Miss Goldfien’s class

In San Rafael, first graders in Miss Goldfien’s class brought in waste-free lunches for a week. Lunches could contain only reusable or recyclable packaging and utensils. The kids put sandwiches, fruit, and chips in reusable containers; drinks came in a thermos or water bottle. Reusable cloth napkins and silverware rounded out the bag.

Here’s what two students wrote about the challenge:

“Some of us thought it was hard to bring a waste-free lunch–especially when we bought a hot lunch from the cafe. Some of us thought it was easy. We put our sandwiches, fruit, and chips in containers. We brought drinks in a thermos or water bottle. We even brought a cloth napkin and our own silverware!
Many of us in Miss Goldfien’s class bring a waste-free lunch almost every day now. We wanted the other kids to see that we could make less garbage. We think it worked, too. Since the week we did it, we have seen a lot more kids bringing waste-free lunches!!!!”

4 Schools in Santa Cruz

The City of Santa Cruz sponsored a zero waste lunch challenge at four area schools. Students, teachers, parents, administrators and custodians worked together at each school to make the zero waste lunch challenge a success. A group of students from each school took a leadership role in the challenge. They collected and weighed lunch trash on several regular school days to get an average daily waste to be used for comparison. Then they collected and weighed the trash on the zero waste lunch day and compared the results. The students helped make posters and presented information to all the classes in the school. They helped students separate their waste after lunch on the zero waste day. Here are the results:

SchoolRegular Day (lbs)Zero Waste Lunch Day (lbs)
Carden School2.51.0
Gateway School10.81.0
Holy Cross School32.55.9
Spring Hill School20.50

Spring Hill elementary school was the big winner by reaching the ultimate goal of zero waste at lunchtime. They used reusable containers, they composted fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, they traded items, and they recycled everything else. The school won some fun prizes, including an environmental assembly on the three R’s ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz.


Read more success stories on WasteFreeLunches.org!

Want to learn more about reducing waste in your school? Give me a call at (802) 872-8100 x211!

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Rhonda Mace
Rhonda Mace
School Outreach Coordinator at CSWD
When she's not setting up a worm composting farm or conducting a waste audit, Rhonda likes to hike and observe nature (she really digs bugs), ride her bike (preferably on the bike path) and cook with locally grown (mostly from her garden) foods. You can reach her at 802-872-8100 x211.