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Waste-free Lunch Lesson

This waste-free lunch lesson was submitted by:

Lois Nixon, Certified Environmental Educator Director

Wake County Keep America Beautiful
P.O. Box 550
Raleigh, NC 27602
email: lnixon@co.wake.nc.us
web: www.wakegov.com

She writes:

I have been doing a "waste-free lunch" lesson in schools in Wake County, NC for several years. The focus has been on students who bring "bag lunches" as well as cafeteria lunches. The lesson is for awareness and individual behavior change--not really to change operational procedures in school lunch rooms. However, some students have contacted their school lunch personnel to request changes after going through the lesson.

    1. Conduct the lesson immediately after the students eat lunch. Tell them to keep all of their trash and lunch leftovers for the lesson.

2. With a permanent pen, mark six clear 30 gallon trash bags with the following categories, and tape the bags to the wall or chalk board tray at the front of the classroom. Categories: paper, plastic, glass, metal, food, other.

3. Ask the students to sort their lunch trash and leftovers into the bags. There will be lots in the "paper" and "plastic" bags, probably nothing in the "glass" bag, and the "other" bag should contain items such as combination materials (candy wrappers with both plastic and aluminum coating, plastic coated paper milk cartons, etc.)

4. Look into each bag and decide whether the contents are properly sorted. Don't single out misplaced items, ie: ("Who put this plastic lid in the glass bag?") but simply move it to the proper bag.

5. Discuss how much of the contents of each bag could be recycled through the local recycling program if it were properly sorted.

6. Discuss contamination.

7. Discuss composting the contents of the food bag, and which items could be included for composting.

8. Suggest starting a compost pile on the school grounds. Ask for a volunteer to take the contents of the food bag home to add to their home compost pile, and encourage others to start a home compost pile. (This often leads to an additional lesson on how to start a compost pile.)

9. Discuss what the students still have left on their desk, ie: metal or plastic lunch box, Tupperware or other reusable containers, washable plastic lunchroom tray, etc.

10. Discuss how the students could change the way they pack their lunch or change their lunchroom choices to reduce waste. (Choose fresh fruit, rather than a throw-away cup of canned fruit; bring a reusable thermos in their lunch, bring food in recyclable containers or drinks in aluminum cans, pack potato chips from a large bag in a reusable container rather than bringing a single serving bag, eat all of the food rather than throwing it away!)

11. Discuss how these same concepts would apply to a picnic their family might take in the summer, and ask them to set a goal to help plan waste-free picnics.

12. This lesson could be re-done in a couple of months to see if there is a difference in the amount of trash. The items in the bags could also be counted and made into a data chart and/or graph in a math lesson, depending on the grade level.

13. Ask for volunteers to recycle the material from the bags that can be recycled through the local recycling program.