Waste Free Lunches

We have all come to depend on the many convenience products that are available to us, and nowhere is this more evident than in the school lunchroom. Many parents pack lunch items in single-use plastic bags, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap, or they purchase single-serving items in disposable packages. Admittedly, these products are convenient for busy families, but what is the environmental cost? Landfills are full and overflowing. Incinerators pump contaminants into the air. Communities battle over who will accept the nation’s trash. We all enjoy these conveniences, but few of us are willing to allow new landfills and incinerators to be built in our backyards.

Much of the trash we generate comes from food packaging. It has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school! A waste-free lunch program educates students, parents & school staff about where our trash ends up and how we can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs encourage the use of reusable food & drink containers, utensils, and napkins and discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes & pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils. Learn more about starting a waste free snack & lunch program at your school!

Tip: Also visit our National & State Green School Programs page to learn more about local and national Green School programs and resources to help you improve the health & sustainability of your school!

Before You Start

Form an Action Team

Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Video (9mins)

Center for Green Schools: Recycling & Waste Management Companion Guide

Review: Getting Started - Which Can Do I Put This In?

Design and Preparation

Conduct a General Environmental Review Checklist

Preliminary Recycling & Waste Management Questions to Consider

Conduct a Consumption & Waste Audit

View a Model Program: Montgomery Co. School Energy & Recycling Team (SERT)


Sample Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades K-5

Blank Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades K-5

Sample Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades 6-12

Blank Consumption and Waste Action Plan Grades 6-12

  • Waste Free Lunch Tracking Sheet
  • Host a Waste Free Lunch Day
  • Host a Waste Free Snack Event
  • Promote Healthy Snacks Over Packaged Snacks
  • Using Your Project

    Participate in the Waste Reduction Challenge

    Join EPA's WasteWise Program

    Eco-School Consumption & Waste Pathway Lessons & Resources

    Eco School National Standards & Curriculum Alignment

    EPA Lesson Plans on Waste

    Design a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Science Fair Project

    Waste Reduction Curriculum & Activities (Green Education Foundation)

    Project Leaning Tree Solid Waste Curriculum

    EPA Planet Protectors Activities for Kids: Waste Reduction & Recycling

    (K-12) Books on Waste Reduction & Recycling (Green Education Foundation)

    Green Education Foundation: Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

    Learning Lab Sustainability Lessons

    Project Learning Tree Curriculum Offerings

    Eco Schools Green STEM Initiative

    Sharing Your Project

    Pack a Waste Free Lunch Poster

    Print & Share the Waste Free Lunchbox Pamphlet!

    Email the Waste Free Lunch Pamphlet

    Present a Waste Free Lunch Slideshow!

    Send Home Tips & Tools for Parents!

    Teachers: Start a Planet Protectors Club (EPA)

    Create Signs About Recycling & Waste Reduction

    Make Signs & Host a Celebration

    Resource Center

    Project Resource Library: Learn More!
    National & State Green School Programs
    Bay Backpack Teaching Resources Search Engine
    EPA Learning & Teaching About the Environment (awards, resources, more)