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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Zero Waste Lunch

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Conduct a personal lunch audit & learn ways you can reduce waste

Grade Level:



Environmental Science

  • Plastic Pollution

  • Human Impacts

  • Waste Management

Tools & Materials

To Do & Notice

1. Question: Is your lunch zero waste? Can you reduce the amount of waste created from your lunch?

2. Make a Claim:

  • How much waste do you create at lunch?

  • Are there reusable and recyclable items in your lunch or is it all disposable waste (landfill) items?

  • Do you eat all of your food or does some get thrown out?

3. Collect Data:

  • Use your lunch (or a list of items you would typically have for lunch) to conduct a personal lunch audit by completing this Zero Waste Audit Sheet. (Tip: Use the first page of the audit sheet as an example of how to complete.)

4. Analyze and Interpret Data:

  • Did you have any lunch waste? If so, what items were disposable waste (landfill) items?

  • Think about your school lunch. If you were to complete a lunch audit for your school lunch how would it differ from your home lunch?

5. Brainstorm: What are some ways that you can reduce lunch waste items from going into the landfill:

Ideas from SWEP Staff:

  • Use reusable containers, cloth napkins, metal straws (or other reusable straws) & other reusable items.

  • Buy in bulk and put into smaller containers.

  • Reuse containers like yogurt, peanut butter jars, etc. to pack your lunch.

  • Make your own reusable container from materials you have at home. (See SWEP’s Upcycled Milk Jug Snippet as an example)

6. Make a plan to reduce your lunch waste.

  • Create a list of steps you can take to reduce your waste. Talk with your family about your plan and ask for their ideas and support. Implement these changes now with your home lunch, and decide how you are going to continue to reduce lunch waste when you go back to school. Start with one change and then grow from there.

What’s Going On

Lunch Waste Problem:

  • The average American creates 4.5 pounds of waste everyday.

  • SWEP’s Green Teams have conducted lunch audits over the last several years and have found:

    • The average TTUSD lunchroom generates 98 pounds of waste everyday. That number multiplied by the number of school days in a typical school year equals 17,640 pounds of lunch waste at just one school site in one school year.

    • As much as 115 pounds of food waste is generated in a single school lunch at a single school site.

Problems with packaging:

  • Most packaging is made out of a plastic that isn’t recyclable and this plastic never goes away.

  • Packaging that is recyclable doesn't always get recycled. According to the EPA even though about 75% of our waste is recyclable only 30% gets recycled and 91% of plastic DOES NOT get recycled.

  • Packaged food is a new thing. Our grandparents didn't have chip bags or bar wrappers. Rethinking our purchasing and packaging is an important step in reducing waste.

Problems with food waste:

  • Edible food is going into the landfill. Did you know that 40% of all edible food in the US is thrown out? This food turns into methane gas in the landfills which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide!

  • Food scraps like apple cores, orange peels, carrot tops, etc. also end up in the landfill and produce methane gas. Food scraps are ideal for composting. Composting recycles energy and nutrients from these food scraps back into the soil to help other plants grow.

  • Good News!! Did you know that TTUSD school sites have started composting food waste? All food waste generated in TTUSD kitchens is diverted into organic waste bins and brought to a composting facility in Sparks, Nevada. SWEP is working with TTUSD administrators & staff to expand this program to the cafeterias soon. For more information how Placer County & Town of Truckee are supporting composting in our region visit: One Big Bin and/or Keep Truckee Green.


  • Learn more about how you can reduce food waste by visiting

  • What is it like to go trash free? Follow along with this woman on her quest.

  • Zero Waste Lunch reusable packaging options.

  • Learn from these students on how to switch over items in your lunch box for zero waste options.

Going Further

1. Track Your Trash: Keep track of the trash you create over a whole week! Watch this video of a man who wears his trash for 30 days! You don't have to go that far...

  • Your options include: saving your trash for 1 week or weigh and log the trash you create in your notebook (and then put it in the proper receptacle).

  • After a week, observe how much waste you have created!

  • Was it more or less than you thought? Did you change your behavior and make different decisions knowing that you would have to keep/log it?

2. Trash Pickup: Do a neighborhood trash pickup on your daily walks.

  • What you need: gloves (dish gloves would work, something you can wash off with soap) and a bag to collect trash in (reuse a bread bag or some other already made packaging rather than a new plastic bag).

  • Head out for a walk with your family and clean up your neighborhood for everyone! This also reduces the amount of microplastics that will end up in our lakes and rivers. Spring is here and runoff has already started, bringing water, natural debris and trash into our watershed.

3. Make a Reusable Lunch Container: Upcycle a used milk jug to take sandwiches and snacks on the go with this SWEP Snippet.

4. Start a home compost! SWEP Snippet “Composting at Home” coming soon!

Thank you to Town of Truckee and our many partners for supporting student's science, sustainability and outdoor learning experiences.

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.

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