Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Environmental Studies Program


Travis Reynolds


Solid waste is a serious environmental problem in the modern world. School cafeterias are one source of food and packaging waste that must be dealt with. Reducing the amount of cafeteria waste disposed of as trash through source reduction, recycling, and composting can not only improve environmental outcomes but also teach students about sustainability and save schools money. Social practice theory provides some factors that may be helpful to examine school cafeteria waste reduction programs. Using these factors, this thesis first examines school waste reduction programs in articles from academic databases, and then in three case study elementary schools in Southern Maine. Waste audits at each of the three schools reveal that there are major differences in how effectively waste is sorted and the types and quantity of waste generated per student. Overall waste diversion was measured at 69% or greater at all schools, although recycling sorting accuracy varied from 90% to 44%. Non-food waste generation rates varied from 16g to 53g per student per day and including food went as high as 148g per day. Finally, interviews with four staff members at each school followed by online surveys supply additional details and opinions on the waste reduction programs. Embracing key people to drive the program on the ground, simplifying the waste stream, and having somebody at the bins to help students sort emerge as concrete sources of program success. These seem to indicate the importance of institutional context and interaction in the creation of a “practice” of waste sorting in schools. There was also an emphasis on making sure students and staff were adequately trained and knowledgeable about the system to use it effectively, exemplifying the importance of knowledge. While there are still varying amounts and kinds of work to be done at all three schools to make these waste reduction programs as successful as they can possibly be, they have a major impact even in their current state.


Recycling, Composting, School Cafeteria, Waste Reduction, Waste Audit