Zero-Waste School Cafeterias

Cafeteria Culture helps create zero-waste school cafeterias and climate-smart communities through education, arts, and media.

Cafeteria Culture fuses student leadership with zero-waste action by offering programs to more than 6,000 students in New York City schools, located primarily in low-income communities. The programs teach students about environmental justice, marine litter, and climate change. By appointing daily student “Cafeteria Rangers,” who oversee post-lunch recycling and sorting of food scraps and packaging, students practice communication and leadership, while learning recycling and sorting skills.
The students also design arts- and media-based advocacy campaigns, such as giant puppets and video shorts, to educate and engage the school community on zero waste and other garbage-related issues. Cafeteria Culture recently launched a free multimedia series, providing 1.1 million students and teachers with resources to successfully implement the program on their own.

Relevance of solution

Education is key to shaping values and behavior, which in turn help realize sustainable development.1 By acquiring knowledge and skills about climate change and the harmful effects of waste production, Cafeteria Culture enables school kids to make a positive environmental impact now and in the future.

Triple Bottom Line


After just a few days of operation in a given school, Cafeteria Culture’s Cafeteria Ranger program increases cafeteria waste diversion rates by up to 80%.


The program helps to infuse a culture of sustainability and zero waste throughout the school, which students can take home and share with their families.


Properly sorting waste reduces the cost of waste management.2


  1. UNESCO. “Building a More Sustainable World through Education.” (2014)
  2. New York Citizens Budget Commission. “12 Things New Yorkers Should Know About Their Garbage”. (2014)