Cafeteria Culture - ARTS+ACTION Cafeteria Waste Reduction | UL Innovative Education Award
Tier Two Winner

Cafeteria Culture - ARTS+ACTION Cafeteria Waste Reduction

Cafeteria Culture
New York

Cafeteria Culture develops hands-on activities around sustainability topics and incorporates them into the school curriculum with the objective of achieving zero waste standards in school cafeterias and climate smart communities, and in dramatically reducing levels of garbage at schools and in the homes of students.

Their ARTS+ACTION Cafeteria Waste Reduction program teaches school youth to become Cafeteria Rangers overseeing/training other students on sorting garbage and recyclables, thereby reducing school waste, while the program also institutes a “Make Change Messaging” component that teaches and empowers youth to be active advocates for climate change issues such as garbage reduction.

Judges Comment

"Cafeteria Culture inspired us with its comprehensive approach that started with awareness and focused on the science of chemicals and plastic lunch trays. They looked at the entire lifecycle of garbage: youth to interview town managers and waste managers, they learn the science behind diesel trucks, and develop ideas for what they could do in their local community. The program engages young students in egalitarian discussions that are impressive in their depth and sophistication. Cafeteria Culture’s videos showed how young children had the confidence to express themselves in meaningful ways that were grounded in scientific reasoning. We were so impressed that children in the program so naturally described the Socratic dialogues as part of their process. The discussions demonstrated that the project deeply considered the role of democratic citizenship as part of its principles and an impressive level of learning at an early age. We think it’s so important that this STEM learning has specific advocacy actions that go with it. These actions build character in children as they work through the Cafeteria Ranger program by reducing plastic bags and waste in their cafeterias. This project stood out because it went even further. It demonstrated forward thinking with a simple toolkit. This toolkit was truly community-wide altruism because the program doesn’t just settle for success in their own area. They want it for others too. They are going to share their knowledge in a standardized way with other schools so others can follow their path. It was tremendous to see that they could take it to that next step to magnify their impact. This project can easily be replicated and we hope that through this award, UL can help kids across the world replicate this success. This taught the science behind what the kids were doing and empowered them to make a change at a massive level. Not only does it empower and engage, but this program is also exemplary because it gives permission to very young children to take a project as far as they could go. When we allow children to make change, it’s impressive to see the scale of positive change they can make. We know so much of the time the structure of our systems prohibits children from engaging as citizens who can shape the world they will live in. We believe Cafeteria Culture should be recognized because it embraces the idea that if we allow children to use their creative muscles, they rise to the occasion and make the world a better place. It also revealed that linking young people’s work to participatory democracy took STEM from the level of abstract learning into concrete practical solutions that improve the world. The panel was particularly impressed to see how these children didn’t rely exclusively on social media, but marched together to a meeting to advocate for change. We forget how much direct presence at meetings can make a change. Crowd sourcing is not just on a computer – sometimes going back to tried and true direct advocacy is innovative when most other efforts stop at the computer. For so long, many environmental educators have avoided the idea that STEM can be used to advocate for creating a better world. It was nice to see that these educators were comfortable allowing these young learners to use their knowledge of STEM to advocate for a better environment and to make real impact."