Lunchroom Recycling Plan (primary)
  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.

Students learn how and challenge others to reduce waste based on observing habits in the lunchroom or in the classroom trash can.

Adapt this one-period lesson plan for your grade level and follow it with a simple and powerful service project for Earth Day. The reflection brings learning and service impact together. 

Photo credit: Lunchroom by Rob Ireton is licensed under CC by 4.0 

PrintOne class period, plus time for a project

Students will be able to...

  • observe and propose better practices related to lunchroom or classroom waste.
  • use listening and speaking skills to communicate about reducing waste.
  • make a decision about a plan of action.

Read-aloud copy of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Home Connection: 

Discuss ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle at home.

  1. Anticipatory Set: We live in a time in which people throw a lot of things away. We are filling up landfills and cutting down trees and putting plastics into our environment. It is a problem. Ask the following:

    How often do we empty the classroom trash can? Where does the stuff in the trash come from? Where does it go? What can we change so we can throw away less stuff? 

    It wasn't that long ago that people lived without packaging or waste. Read a picture book about a time long ago, or a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods, which takes place in the late 1800s. Tell the students to pay attention to how everything is used responsibly.

    Ask, "What would be different if we accumulated less stuff?"

  2. To gather evidence about the waste we create, together with the students, observe what items are in the trash and recycling bins after a day or two. Make a list on the board or set out examples on a table. For every item, brainstorm how it could be reused, recycled, or if there is a way to do without. 

  3. Lunchroom Waste Observation:

    With permission (and help) from the custodian, and without touching food waste, take a look at what is thrown away in the lunchroom waste can by spreading it out on a tarp and standing around it. Ask students to observe the following:

    1. What makes up most of the garbage? 
    2. What items could be sorted and used in a different way before they go in the trash? 
    3. Is there valuable food that could feed someone who is hungry? 
    4. What if we threw away less in our lunchroom or classroom? How is that good for the world?

    Carefully put the trash back in the waste can and clean up the area. Wear gloves and wash the tarp with a hose outside or in a big kitchen sink. 

  4. Back in the classroom, brainstorm ideas for reducing waste. For example:

    • Teach people to put snacks in reusable containers rather than plastic bags or pre-packaged bags. 
    • Have a no-waste Wednesday in the lunchroom. Give people ideas on a sheet that goes home.
    • Put a container for recyclables in the lunchroom -- near a washing station (need to be cleaned before recycling). 
    • Brainstorm art projects that can use cleaned items rescued from the trash. 
  5. Choose one idea related to the classroom or lunchroom waste. Teach others about the importance of using less. Focusing on one thing may be easier to stick with and have a bigger impact.  


Each student writes a practice that they can do based on what they learned. Then, they draw a picture of a vision of ten years from now because of their impact. What might be different when the world is cleaner and has more natural resources and less waste? 


Follow the service project with a brief reflection and whole-group discussion.

  1. What are ways we reduced waste? How did other students respond to our efforts? Did we make a difference in the class? At the school? With our families?
  2. What would we like to do next to continue recycling efforts?