Consider Putting Your School’s Trash on the Tarp

Has your school ever done a “Trash on the Tarp” exercise? Recently, the Issaquah Middle School Green Team conducted one for the second year in a row. A King County Green Team specialist worked with IMS teacher Kurt Weiland to devise the activity to raise awareness about lunchroom waste. Lunchroom containers were replaced by three tarps on which students could dispose of their garbage, recyclables, and compostables. Green Team members donned lab coats and observed the choices the students were making.  IssaquahMS tarp1

Meanwhile, the Green team specialist walked around the lunchroom posing trash trivia questions to students such as “What should you do with no longer usable Ziploc bags?” (The answer is rip the zip off, recycle the bag, and throw the zip in the garbage.) She also asked questions specific to IMS such as “Which bin do you place used utensils?” The answer in the case of utensils used in the IMS lunchroom is the compostables bin.

After both lunch periods, the Green Team members recorded the most common items and the most common examples of contamination in the recycling and composting piles. They then moved the contaminants to IssaquahMS tarp 2the appropriate piles and bagged each pile for weighing. The Green Team learned that while the school has a high recycling rate, it also has a lot of food waste. With the Green Team specialist, the students brainstormed ideas to make changes to address this issue. Here are some of their ideas:

Provide a clearly labeled basket for students to place items they don’t want to eat but want to make available for others to eat. Previously, students didn’t realize that food on a share table was meant for consumption.

  • Research local and federal laws regarding requirements for school lunches.
  • Research whether the school can donate unused food.
  • Start a video and poster campaign to reduce food waste.

Issaquah Middle School is one of many King County green teams that focus on reducing food waste and increasing recycling in the lunchroom. Food waste can make up anywhere from 30-50 percent of the total garbage volume in schools and accounts for more than 25 percent of home waste. When food is wasted, all the water and energy used to grow, produce, package and transport that food is wasted as well.

In addition to the IMS ideas above, schools can follow some simple tips to reduce food waste, and, therefore, conserve resources and save money.

Educate and promote

Raise awareness about the issue through discussions and posters. Take advantage of the resources available from King County.

  • Use the King County “Food for Thought” video created in 2003 with Foster High School students to initiate discussion.
  • Conduct Waste-Free Lunch campaigns to
    • promote use of durable containers for lunches packed at home.
    • encourage students to eat and drink what they bring for lunch – and to take leftovers home.

Schedule recess before lunch

Scheduling recess prior to lunch has been shown to be effective in reducing food waste in elementary schools.

Assess lunchroom menus

See what students are eating and what’s being thrown away. Make adjustments accordingly.

Use milk dispensers instead of cartons

Dispensers and durable cups reduce packaging and also reduce milk waste

Find more ideas on King County’s website at Food: Too Good to Waste or King County Green Schools.

2 thoughts on “Consider Putting Your School’s Trash on the Tarp

  1. Love to see schools reducing their waste! I used to run a composting education program for schools and part of our learning involved a tarp, gloves, and the classroom garbage can. Of course the kids thought it was gross sifting through the garbage at first, but after a while they started picking things out of the pile that could be composted or recycled instead. I’d love to see more eco friendly alternatives (ie rid of ziploc). Great initiative here, good for you!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Nadine! We agree that spreading trash on a tarp is a great way to see how much we throw away and how important it is not only to recycle and compost, but to rethink out habits so we use and throw away fewer things.

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