Learn Valuable Lessons by Exploring Your Cafeteria

Lunch time is a crucial part of the school day.  It gives students a chance to socialize, have a brain break, and get the fuel they need to power through the rest of the afternoon.  But how mindful are students of where their food comes from and where it goes once the day is over?  Here are a few simple ways to raise students’ awareness:


1.     Interview the cafeteria manager.  Students can ask questions regarding where the food comes from, where it goes afterward, which meals they see producing more waste. 

2.     Do a garbage dissection.  Yes, it is a bit gross, but it is a powerful learning experience.  Students can discover what makes up the majority of their trash.  Are there items in there that can be recycled or composted?  Does it seem like students are eating most of their food or is there a lot of food waste? 

3.     Contact the local municipality and ask to speak with someone in the sanitation department (or even better, ask if they will come to the school).  Students can find out where the garbage goes, how much trash their town produces, and what the town might be doing to strategize where waste goes for the future.


Once students have some information, they can take on a project.  This can be on a large or small scale, depending on the resources available. Here are a couple options:

1.     Establish a “clean plate club”.  Students can join if they finish all of their lunch.  If the food gets consumed, then it doesn’t end up in the trash. 

2.     Set up a recycling program at the school.  Students will need to determine the logistics of making this work, as well as generate the buy in from the school community to separate their trash.  However, it has been done successfully at many schools.

3.     Separate trash from snack time in your own classroom.  Make three piles: trash, recyclables, and compostables.  Students can weigh each for a week and see how much garbage they could save from a landfill if they recycle and compost.  This is a great way to segue into instituting a compost / garden or recycling program at the school.