Better Earth Lunch Tray Design Challenge


  • Challenge opens: November 21, 2019
  • Final designs due: 9am EST on Monday, December 9
  • Winning team announced: Jan. 2020


The winning team will receive a $500 gift card to the Package Free Shop to support their own plastic-free transformation!

The winning design will be used as the inspiration for Better Earth’s new switchgrass school lunch trays which will be available for schools across the US in Fall 2020. We'll also feature you and your design in media materials and on the Better Earth and Captain Planet Foundation websites.

Wait - What's the Problem?

What does the perfect school lunch tray look like?

It’s estimated that it takes more than 500 years for a styrofoam tray to decompose; 200-300 years for a plastic straw. That means that every single tray and straw we have ever used is still here on Earth someplace. Food waste is also a major contributor to climate change: When food is in a landfill and starts decomposing, it creates gases that contribute to global warming and doesn’t contribute to the creation of new soil, which we need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

So what if we had the opportunity to rethink a fundamental element of school lunches to minimize their carbon footprint? Now is your chance to reinvent the lunch tray.


Styrofoam lunch tray waste at a school cafeteria

Your Challenge

How can we redesign the layout and look of school lunch trays
to reduce the environmental impact of school lunches?

Better Earth creates sustainable and compostable packaging with a minimal environmental footprint.
They want YOU to redesign the way we look at school lunch trays beyond the materials we use to make them!

To get started, download the blank lunch tray template below. Be sure to read over all the rules & requirements for your design!

Rules & Requirements

  • You may submit as an individual or as a team!
  • Things your submission needs to include:
    1. An easy-to-understand drawing of your tray design on the template you downloaded above. Drawings should include:
      • Tray compartments and their dimensions
      • Any images or words embossed on the compartments (embossing means it will be pressed into the fiber, not printed; see example at right)
        • Use basic images/symbols without too much detail, so that they will be easily seen when embossed
        • At least 12 point font
        • No more than 30 characters of text per compartment
    2. An explanation of your design - this could be a short video, a Word doc, flyer, slide deck/PowerPoint, etc. Your presentation should tell us how your design is going to reduce the environmental footprint of school lunches and addresses the needs of everyone involved - such as cafeteria staff, students, and the composters disposing of them.
This is what it means to "emboss" fiber!
This is what it means to "emboss" fiber!
  • Things that can't change:
    • Size (overall) of the tray (10 ½” long x 8 ½” wide x 1 ½” deep)
    • Weight of the tray (25 grams)
    • Color of the tray (it will be an unbleached tan color like the switchgrass fiber it’s made from)
    • And a reminder that the typical school lunch should be able to easily hold these items:
      • A serving of fruit
      • A serving of vegetables
      • 4-6 ½ oz of protein and/or plant-based protein
      • Milk carton or other beverage
contact email for this contest

Ideas to Consider

  • Consider your own school as inspiration to design a better tray, and explore what happens in your own cafeteria: What kinds of trays does your school use? Why?
  • What would the ideal lunch (that minimizes food waste and environmental impact) look like? Consider the types of food that would be served, portion sizes, etc.
  • What would inspire you to eat healthy foods and waste less? What would inspire your friends? How can you use those items to inspire your design?
  • Talk to people to understand what they think is important in a tray. This may include not just students but also cafeteria and custodial staff, the people who make the purchasing decisions, etc. What do they like and dislike about your school’s current school tray?
  • What kinds of messaging or artwork should the tray feature? Remember, you are limited to the ability to emboss (press into the fiber) rather than print, so designs can’t be too complicated.


Submissions will be reviewed by a committee of Better Earth & Captain Planet Foundation team members. Winners will be announced in January 2020. The committee will be judging these designs based on:

  • Following the design parameters 
  • How much your design addresses the issues of plastic and foot waste
  • Creativity in your design
  • Professional presentation of your design

Ready to Submit?

Before you submit, remember to:

  • Review the submission guidelines and terms and conditions
  • Prepare your final tray design within the template provided
  • Prepare a short presentation explaining your design