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A Case Study: Gateway School

Gateway School in Santa Cruz, CA was able to reduce lunch and snack waste by nearly 35%, thanks to a great effort made by the entire school community! Our goals for the future include: reducing the amount of trash generated by the hot lunch program, involving teachers and staff in waste reduction in all areas on campus, and helping parents and students make earth-friendly lunches part of their everyday routine.


Our waste-free lunch program started when a group of parents noticed how much trash our students were generating during snack time and at lunch. One of the parents had heard about a waste-free lunch program that had been implemented in Marin County, California and another knew of one at a local preschool. They approached our head of school to find out if it might be possible to implement such a program at our school. The Head of School was extremely supportive and optimistic. He put the parents in touch with like-minded faculty, and set the wheels in motion. Two days later, parents and staff were invited to a meeting to discuss the possibility of starting a waste-free lunch program, and we were on our way!

Getting Started

We decided during our first meeting that we wanted to be a group of do-ers. We did not want to just sit around discussing ideas. To this end, we designed a simple goal sheet so that we could better define our goals and a task sheet so we could delegate various responsibilities. We also put together a telephone and email list so that members of the group could communicate with one another. To integrate these, we chose one person to be our group "communicator" who would send out meeting reminders and summaries. Finally, we defined the scope of our project and choose one member to communicate with the rest of the school community--parents, teachers, staff, and students.

Defining the Scope of the Program

We held our first meeting in early March 2002. At that time we set a short term goal of putting together a week-long waste-free lunch program to coincide with Earth Week (April 22-26). Our long term goal was to implement a full-fledged waste-free lunch program to begin in September 2002. For Earth Week our major area of focus would be on lunches brought from home. We would use the summer months to research hot lunch alternatives, and our hope for September was to focus our attention on reducing waste resulting not only from lunches brought from home, but also from the hot lunch program.

If you're planning to implement a waste-free lunch program, you will need to determine the scope of your program based on:

  • the size of the school
  • the the number of people on your committee
  • your perceived level of community support
  • the amount of time and energy you have

The Components of a Waste-free Lunch Program

Since we were starting out with a relatively small committee of about 8 people, and we had never tried this sort of thing before, we were cautious about taking on more than we could handle. Looking back on it now, however, we're amazed at how much we were able to accomplish in such a short period of time. This is what we did.

  • Communicated with parents about what to do and what to expect
  • Communicated with teachers and elicited their ideas for making it work
  • Conducted three trash audits, one the week before Earth Week, one at the end of Earth Week (April 25), and one in late May.
  • Created an interactive Earth Week/Waste-free Lunch lobby display
  • Scheduled and facilitated lunch-time activities for improving student awareness

(tree planting, music, recycled art, trash audits, group interviews)

Tips for Parents

If you're looking for tips for parents, click HERE.