Cafeteria Culture Works to Achieve Zero-Waste Cafeterias

by Justin Taylor

Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Cafeteria Culture

What they do: Cafeteria Culture (CafCu) is creatively working to achieve zero-waste school cafeterias and climate-smart communities. They began as Styrofoam Out of Schools in 2009, and through a partnership with NYC’s Department of Education School Food and Parsons The New School, they worked to rid schools of the 860,000 toxic and polluting Styrofoam (styrene foam) lunch trays used per day. They now partner with various stakeholders, including students, teachers, custodial staff, cafeteria aides, school administrators, parents, School Food staff and directors, manufacturers, and others to develop innovative zero-waste school models that can be scaled up and easily shared citywide and beyond.

How they do it: Cafeteria Culture’s core team has spent thousands of hours working closely with students and staff of school cafeterias in East Harlem, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and the Lower East Side. They regularly share valuable on-the-ground information and recommendations regarding packaging, messaging, product and system design with the directors of government agencies, in order to accelerate urgently needed change.

Mission: Cafeteria Culture (CafCu) is creatively working to achieve zero-waste school cafeterias and climate-smart communities through education, arts, media and action.”

Latest project/campaign: In March 2018, students from P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly collected garbage from the beach at Jamaica Bay as part of Cafeteria Culture’s Trash-Free Waters campaign.

Major Funding: US EPA, Rosie Mendez, NYU Community Fund, The Awesome Foundation, Captain Planet Foundation, Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, Innovative Education Award, FCNY, Naaee, NYC Council, Neiwpcc, Gale Breer

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: N/A

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: In December 2013, the NYC Council voted unanimously to ban styrene foam from the entire city. By collaborating with 15 other nonprofits and taking the lead in grassroots lobbying, CalCu played a critical role in achieving this success.



121 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor

New York, NY 10013

Core Programs:

Sort 2 Save – CafCu’s zero-waste tools for schools

After school ARTS + ACTION

Cafeteria consulting to reduce waste

Number of staff: 5

Number of volunteers: N/A

Areas served: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens

Year Started: 2009

Director: Debby Lee Cohen

Contact Information:

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