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Going Green(er) in Schools

March 17, 2011

By Jennifer Chaky

In preparation for Earth Day, some parents in the Montclair school district are working with the schools to organize Waste-Free Lunch Day extravaganzas. On certain days, parent volunteers will go to the school’s cafeterias and set up bins for dividing trash into recyclables, compostables, liquids, and true trash. The collection bins are then weighed and everyone gets to see how much waste is diverted from the incinerator when it’s properly separated.

In one of the schools of roughly 500 third through fifth graders where the Waste-Free Lunch Initiative was begun, the average weight of the garbage was 130 pounds per day. This number multiplied by 180 days of school would total 23,400 pounds of trash each year from this one school alone. After the Waste-Free Lunch Initiative was in effect for one year, the average total waste was dropped to 102 pounds. This reduction can be due to heightened awareness of the issue that led more parents to send kids to school with reusable containers. A breakdown of average daily waste after it was separated was:

  • 23 pounds of liquids that were dumped down a drain instead of hauled to an incinerator to burn
  • 4 lbs of cartons
  • 5 lbs of co-mingled recycling
  • 16 lbs of compost for the school garden
  • a total average of 54 pounds of true trash (cannot be recycled, drained, or composted) per day

That’s about a 50% decrease in the heavy, wet, stinky garbage that requires a lot of fuel to haul and burn. The majority of the waste came from the school-supplied lunch service, so clearly there’s still work to be done with food vendors, who need to be convinced to provide better disposable items or reusables such as metal trays and utensils instead of the massive amounts of Stryofoam and plastic that are sometimes supplied in school cafeterias. But in the meantime, parents are really starting to see the value, both to the planet, kid’s health, and their wallets, of sending their children to school with reusable containers for food and beverages.

Maybe you can plan a Waste-Free lunch initiative at your school? Or do you already? Tell us how it’s going!

Here are my three favorite waste-free lunch products:

Keep Leaf Baggie
Eco-lunchbox 3 in 1
Klean Kanteen Beverage Bottles

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