Half Day School: Zero Waste Lunch Room Challenge

  • Project Type: Path to Net Zero, Waste Reduction
  • Students: 40
  • Staff: 5
  • Mentor: Eileen Grace Whitemiller
  • Location: Lincolnshire, IL
  • Grade Level: High School

Winner: Path to Zero Waste Award

Half Day School’s project was recognized with the Path to Zero Waste Award by the Illinois Green Schools Project reviewers.

The Project

Half Day School’s composting program encourages students and faculty to divert food scraps and other organic materials from landfills. The school’s Green Team, a group of students in grades 3-5 that meets weekly to tackle environmental issues, implemented a "Waste Free Lunch" raffle contest which challenged students to be more aware of their impact on the environment while also learning about recycling, composting, and zero waste.


The Waste Free Lunch Room Challenge resulted in a 75% decrease of the number of bags of landfill each week. Student surveys also indicate a better understanding of sustainability and zero waste. 

Program Goals

  • Environmental Education: One of the primary goals of the composting program is to educate students about environmental sustainability and waste reduction. By learning about composting and the benefits it can provide, students become more aware of the environmental impacts of their daily actions and become more motivated to reduce waste.
  • Reduce waste: Composting allows schools to divert organic waste such as food scraps from landfills, which reduces the amount of waste that needs to be transported and processed. By composting these materials, schools can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are generated from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills.
  • Soil Health: Compost is a valuable resource that can be used to improve soil health and fertility. By creating compost from school waste, students learn about the importance of soil health and how to grow healthy plants.
  • Student empowerment: By participating in the composting program, students feel empowered to make a positive impact on the environment. They take an active role in reducing waste and creating a more sustainable future, which can be a powerful experience that instills a sense of responsibility and stewardship in students.

The Process

The program began with research to learn about industrial composting. After multiple meetings with the school administration, program leaders secured the funding and approval from the district to begin a school-wide composting program.

Faculty leaders then trained students on how to sort their leftover lunch components into: compost, recyclable, and landfill. Student Green Team Ambassadors oversaw the day-to-day sorting stations located in the school’s lunch room. Staff and parents were also informed about the program and educated on how they can help make an impact. 

To incentivize the students and focus on zero waste lunches, the Green Team created a raffle, in which students who brought in a zero-waste lunch were awarded a raffle ticket one day of the week. Winners were chosen each week and awarded an “earth-friendly” prize, which was funded by the Illinois Green Alliance mini grant. These prizes include reusable utensils, water bottles, and lunch bags. 

Looking forward, The Green Team plans to grow the program to include classroom composting stations.