Over the years, ECI has spent a lot of time in schools, helping launch sustainability projects like no-idling campaigns and service learning projects, but we are inspired these days by the efforts schools are making to achieve Zero Waste Cafeterias.

Zero Waste Cafeterias achieve a lot, including waste reduction (plastic and cardboard), food rescue and food waste compost. The project reduces waste and greenhouse gas pollution, while promoting systems thinking and problem-based, youth-empowered learning experiences. We hope the Zero Waste Cafeteria will inspire children to achieve zero waste at home and elsewhere, while teaching them about important concepts like circular economy and climate recovery.

For Zero Waste Cafeterias, we use Cafeteria Culture as a starting point. Thanks to a grant from Service Learning Action Fund, we launched our first Zero Waste Cafeteria at IPS School 91, also known as Rousseau McClellan. With support from Principal Lause and school mom Kristina Hulvershorn (also co-director of our Climate Camp), two sixth graders, Ella and Sophie, trained dozens of their classmates in the art and science of Cafeteria Culture’s Zero Waste Cafeteria program. By the end of the Spring 2018 semester, School 91 had achieved a 75% reduction in school waste.

See here for a television newscast story on 91’s Zero Waste Cafeteria.

We also believe Zero Waste Cafeterias are a perfect opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, not only within a school, but also between schools, as is evidenced by this visit from International School of Indiana students to School 91:

Ella, fourth from left, explains the Zero Waste Cafeteria stations to three International School Students.

Ella, fourth from left, explains the Zero Waste Cafeteria stations to three International School Students.

Besides the Cafeteria Culture website, another fundamental starting point is Indiana’s own Food Rescue program. This powerful initiative provides schools an easy-to-follow project to rescue safe, edible food for transfer to local food banks. A program to divert methane from landfills, Food Rescue is now in place in hundreds of Indiana schools.

Here are our recommendations for curriculum, because integrating Zero Waste Cafeteria into the school room ensures its success and sustainability:

Purdue University’s Food Waste Lesson Plans

Do the Rot Thing

World Wildlife Fund’s Food Waste Warrior Toolkit