This School’s Solution to Food Waste? Get Rid of Trash Cans.

updated Sep 3, 2019
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Even if you’re a bit out of the loop, there’s no way you’ve completely tuned out the global conversation about the dire need to reduce the amount of waste we create in our home kitchens, offices, restaurants, schools — everywhere really. Unfortunately, the zero-waste movement isn’t super effective when it’s foisted upon people who haven’t felt compelled to seriously alter their lifestyles — yet. This is precisely the issue that a user presented on Reddit this week when their child’s public school simply removed all waste receptacles. Instead of using compost, recycling, and trash bins, students are required to take home all trash themselves, in an effort to create a “zero-waste environment.”

Here the original poster exasperatedly presents the conundrum at hand: “My son’s school is now ‘zero waste.’ They are not composting nor are they recycling, they are just denying the children access to the trash can. All their lunch refuse must go home with them in their lunch box. They can throw away half eaten yogurts, apple cores, and banana peels only. Everything else stays in the lunch box to come home.”

The poster continues with a hypothesis, arguing that, “they are doing this to save money on the trash service,” and that “they are denying my child basic services.”

As you might imagine, this started a lively conversation with nearly 330 comments on this now-locked thread with views from all sides. Shockingly enough, though, a healthy portion of responders see this school’s strategy as a good thing — an opportunity to green up their lunch packing, and to think carefully about how and what goes into the lunch packing.

Most helpful of all were the many parents whose kids attend schools with a similar policy who jumped in to offer helpful hints. Some of those included packing tips like reusable plastic bags, Tupperware, and beeswax wraps. Others suggested replacing juice boxes with Thermoses and buying big tubs of products and portioning it into smaller packages in the lunch box rather than buying individual packages (a strategy which is cheaper, to boot). 

Even if it was implemented as a cost-saving measure for the school, the consensus on this thread from other parents familiar with zero-waste school cafeterias is pretty positive, all things considered. Perhaps this strategy is one of those rare win-win situations that saves the school money and cleverly forces people into small behavioral changes with the environment at top of mind.

How does your child’s cafeteria handle food waste?