September 20, 2019

Using Mad Green Skills to Generate Less Cafeteria Trash

Walk into any school cafeteria after lunch and observe the bins and bins of trash the students create with little thought. With a little work and education, your school staff (or parent organization) can tackle this and generate less trash, as well as teach the students a valuable skill. Before making the changes, make sure the district or community has the facilities to support the changes. Bring in the right people from the community to make sure the effort made to collect things for recycling is rewarded with pick up!

1. Educate the students and change language they use. The first week of school, expectations need to be set up, they need to walk through and have changes explained and understand why they are doing it.

2. When they are finished eating, they ask to be excused to recycle. Don’t say throw away your trash, ask if they are ready to recycle.

3. Set up stations. Have the garbage bins set up with labels. They will need a bin to put food scraps in, one for plastics, one for paper, one for milk cartons, one for wtaer bottles. Many plastic bottle recyclers need the bottles with lids off and empty, so you will need a bucket for them to empty remaining water into before the bin for the empty bottles.

4. Have students be involved with the recyling process. Don’t use it as a punishment to help clean the lunchroom- have it be a rotating job classes take turns doing.

5. Try to do a tie in field trip to one of the recycling facilities the school’s waste goes to.

6. Depending how far you want to take the process you can set up a school garden with a compost bin. If you are going to compost the school food leftovers, the students will need to be taught which foods can go in the composting bin and which ones cannot. Raised beds can be built (get parents/community donations and build them on a weekend, or better yet have the kids help build them.  * Tie in with math objectives- tell students what size the raised beds area nd have them figure out how much wood is needed to build them!  Figure out how much soil is needed to put inside them.  The students can approach local gardening companies for donations of things needed- tie it in to literacy and letter writing.  The students can plant and then care for plants or flowers.
(Is anyone starting to see a whole school, cross-curricular unit built around this process!)

7. Capri sun has a great program your school can sign up to be a part of. Go to:
The student’s empty juice pouches are collected and sent in. Each pouch is worth .02 cents and they make things out of them. Your school needs to sign up for the program. You will need a separate bin for the juice pouches. It could be carried further and families could save them at home and send it to add to the lunch collection. (Our house has saved 150 pouches in 2 months-some I have grabbed after baseball games!)

The students will learn that recycling is not hard and benefits the earth. If tie ins can be made (through either a trip to the recycling plant or having the recyclers come do a school talk) and having your students involved in all steps will open their eyes. Most of them just throw their trash away and don’t give it another thought. Making them aware will help us all!

Photo Credit: Chriss BB


  1. [...] awareness of Greener Living. Here’s the perfect way to begin building student awareness  Using Mad Green Skills to Generate Less Cafeteria Trash and 8 Simple Ways to Reduce Plastic in the Classroom. Every baby step we take toward protecting the [...]

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