Cafeteria Trash Sort

Cafeteria Sorts are a fun way for students to develop an understanding of resources to enhance conservation, recycling and healthy eating habits.

Background:  The average elementary school generates 18,760 lbs. of trash per school year.  It has been estimated that on average a landfill garbage truckschool-age student packing a disposable lunch generates 67 lbs. of waste per school year.  Resource depletion and disposal of consumer goods are taking its toll on the environment.  The need to consume wisely by seeking and applying environmentally friendly choices are essential features to ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.  By fostering awareness about individual responsibilities, young people will grow up to be conscious, responsible consumers and demonstrate solidarity in favor of those with fewer resources.

Objective:  Students examine materials contributing to cafeteria trash to gain a better understanding about resources and the environmental impact of our garbage.  The goal is to develop behavior changes leading to responsible choices, increase in recycling and respect and care for earth’s resources.

Program: Students sort post lunch materials into specific bins during lunch periods.  We play a quick “gameshow” with student contestants to review recycling, learn about decomposition and consider healthy options like fresh fruit (which comes in its own packaging).  Afterwards,  with the help of volunteers, bags are weighed, graphed and results posted.  Individual classes are invited back to analyze Cafeteria Trash Sort results and play the Garbage Graveyard Game.  Students gain hands on experience to develop an understanding of nonrenewable vs. renewable resources, the importance of recycling and waste-free alternatives!


 Step 1:  School visit

Prior to Cafeteria Trash Sort, we will conduct a basic waste audit to garner a full understanding of your schools waste stream and current recycling programs.  This 60 minute visit helps PLP tailor the Cafeteria Trash Sort to meet your schools objectives.

After visit we will provide:

  • Recap and list of recommendations
  • Letter to staff announcing details of Cafeteria Trash Sort
  • Morning announcement outlining Cafeteria Trash Sort to be read day of event
  • Schedule for Trash Sort and volunteer sign up (if applicable)

Step 2:  Cafeteria trash sort

The day of sort, PLP will arrive 30 minutes before first lunch period to set up and meet with student volunteers.  During lunch periods, PLP will make a brief presentation explain materials commonly used in lunches.  After students have completed lunch they sort their lunch remnants by identifying different materials and discarding into distinct receptacles:

  • Recyclables
  • Food waste
  • Untouched food still in packaging (or whole apples)
  • Single-use packaging
  • Reusable containers (bin will be signed and empty to reinforce positive behavior)
  • Trash

 Step 3: Garbage Graveyard Workshop

After cafeteria trash sort, with the help of student volunteers, bags of  materials are weighed and logged .  Individual classes are invited back for a 30 minute workshop to examine Cafeteria Sort results, make predictions about trash and complete an in depth analysis about where resources originate and which materials are recyclable.  Students gain hands on experience to develop critical thinking skills and the interconnectedness between environmental issues associated with wastefulness.  In conclusion we will explore alternatives to a landfill by promoting solutions for making sustainable choices.

Outcome: Student Take-away. 

Trash sorts reinforce the importance of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Students develop an understanding of personal consumption and responsibility by discussing eco-friendly solutions.  Familiar concepts like recycling will be reviewed to help introduce new ideas such as renewable and non-renewable resources, composting and decomposition.


  • School visit, Cafeteria Sort (3 lunch periods) $500

                        Add $50 for each additional lunch period

  • Post Lunch Workshop $25/class

                        This workshop is ideal for individual classes but can accommodate up to 50 students. Recommended for  grades 3 – 8.


Questions? Please contact Gina Adams-Levy, Peace, Love & Planet founder and educator coordinator at (248) 840-0248 or .  To schedule  your program email 2-3 proposed dates. Thank you!