Zero waste at school

During an average school day, the number of recyclables that get thrown away into bins destined for the landfill is astonishing. As a society, we have such a locked-in viewpoint to throw things away and buy more things to eventually throw away. 

Especially after the pandemic hit the world, school lunches have been hyperattentive in making sure that kids would be safe while eating lunch. The dependence on plastic bags, plastic wrappings, plastic trays, and plastic utensils has increased tremendously in schools in the nation, and the problem is only getting worse as new variants emerge and people start to panic again. Image source: Ecowatch

Only recently have we begun to understand how those choices are affecting our world, and only recently has the fact that we only have one planet clicked in our brains. Looking at the amount of pollution and plastic waste can be a lot to take in, and it’s very easy for people to say ‘Oh, someone else will clean it up’ or ‘It’s not my problem’.

That’s not the case. Change can only start with small steps. You cannot go from 0 to 100 with one step. Change happens locally, and you can do it even with your school!

Most schools across America have recycling bins but don’t actually send those bins to the recycling plant. That’s when you have to take the plunge. Cutting down on seemingly impossible to cut down on things can be hard, and not that practical. Items like paper or books can’t disappear overnight, however with a few simple steps, you can start leading your school into greener days. 

Change eating habits

When giving children lunches from home, try and make sure that not only are they eating healthy, but you are providing them with food packaging that is reusable and slowly weaning plastic out of their lunchboxes. By buying in bulk, you are optimizing food and also eating a lot healthier, which, in turn, is your kids eating a lot healthier. Image source: Crystal Karges

Instead of individually packaged snacks and lunches, which add more plastic into the environment, try a greener approach. Wherever you buy your groceries, buy in bulk. This will significantly reduce your plastic usage and help you eat healthily! 

Buying in bulk also optimizes food which means fewer trips to the grocery store over a short period of time. Fewer trips to the grocery store mean fewer cars driving around, which is also immensely beneficial to lowering the number of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. 

Either way, buying in bulk is a great way to reduce plastic usage, encourage healthy eating, and reduce trips to the store. In some cases, buying in bulk saves you money if you’re consistently doing so – not every change is environmentally beneficial only, most are economically friendly. Buying in bulk also reduces the food waste generated from packaged goods. With more freshness, bulk goods allow for longer shelf life, which means if that vegetable soup didn’t get made before the veggies expired, they wouldn’t have had to be thrown out.

Costco Warehouse, one of the biggest bulk grocery stores in the United States, is known for reducing the amount of plastic packaging and utilizing the reuse of cardboard boxes that are used to store the goods and services. Image source: Eat This, Not That

Additionally, don’t use as many plastic baggies to store your food, use reusable containers. Not only do reusable containers reduce plastic impact, but they also keep food fresher and last longer within a lunchbox. 

Now, many people do not have access or funds for reusable containers – which is a problem that should be addressed if we have any hope of fighting the plastic influence – but even by doing something as simple as reusing the plastic bags that are around, you can lessen your impact until you are able to get the reusable containers. 


Printing at school is a must for most kids. Whether it be last-minute changes to essays, or projects, or anything in between, the use of school printers is a major source of paper for most of the student body. Image Source: SLP Echo

Consider this: a typical school will use an average of 2,000 sheets of paper per day, meaning that during a full school year of 160 days, a school will go through over 320,000 sheets of paper per year. With roughly 100,000 schools in the US, this means that all together schools are consuming as much as 32 billion sheets of paper per year. That’s a lot of paper!

To put that into consideration, that’s over 32 billion trees. On paper. Now, when it comes to paper, schools use a lot of it, whether that be worksheets, tests, etc. and although the pandemic put a stop to all of that, at least temporarily, schools still go through quite a bit of paper. 

When students are printing stuff out, print double-sided! Even though this should go without saying, many people don’t print double-sided. Of course, when it is just a one-sided piece of paper, that is a different story, but when there are multiple pages to a literature essay, that can reduce quite the strain on paper companies. By printing double-sided, you reduce the amount of paper the school has to buy from the paper company, you reduce the amount of energy the paper company has to use making paper, and inevitably you reduce the number of trees cut down for the business of the paper company. 

Similarly, as an alternative, schools can also consider using recycled paper instead of, well, non recycled paper, which encourages recycling and emphasizes environmentally friendly practices within the school. 

Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are showing a significant promise within the United States and globally and the shift from plastic water bottles slowly turns to reusable ones. While there are many brands to choose from and many funky designs, make sure to optimize water hydration and durability when choosing a water bottle. Image Source: The Daily Meal

At school, kids drink a lot of water! A great tool to utilize are the water fountains all over most public and private schools, which make for using reusable water bottles significantly easier. Students should consider bringing their own reusable water bottles to school instead of the disposable plastic water bottles. 

A majority of plastic pollution is from these plastic single-use water bottles and by drinking from reusable water bottles and making that conscious effort to reduce plastic waste, the road to change is already being paved. Drinking from reusable water bottles keeps a lot of plastic out of landfills and the ocean – all plastics’ eventual destination. 

Even if a reusable water bottle is out of a budget or not available close to you, even reusing the plastic water bottles available is a small step that can still make a major difference. 

Like we said before, change can only happen with small steps which lead to bigger steps. Kids are the future of our world. By getting them to change and realize what is being done to their planet, we can begin building a foundation for a better understanding of our community. Start being green at school today!

-The Litter Challenge Team.