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Better Earth Lunch Tray Design Challenge


  • Challenge Opens: November 11, 2019
  • Q&A Webinar with Better Earth & Captain Planet Foundation: Friday, Dec 6 @ 3pm EST
  • Final Designs Due: Friday, December 20 @ 3pm EST



Wait, what's the problem?

If you were asked to draw the typical school lunch, what would it look like? What kind of tray is it served on? Does each compartment mean something? What kinds of food are on that tray? What utensils students eat their meals with? Is meat a big part of that lunch?

Now consider how much of that lunch goes into the trash can. Is a lot of food thrown away? What about the tray and utensils? And where does it go from there? Is there recycling or compost available? Or does everything end up in a landfill?

Styrofoam lunch tray waste at a school cafeteria

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.


Your Challenge: How can we redesign the layout and look of a school lunch tray 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!

Design Rules

  • The overall dimensions of the tray must be 10 ½” long x 8 ½” wide x 1 ½” deep
  • The weight of the tray must remain at 25 grams
  • The overall color of the tray will be the natural color of the switchgrass fiber it’s made of - an unbleached tan color

Design Requirements

Designs should include:

  • The layout, dimensions and number of the compartments on the tray
  • Any images or labeling of the compartments (which will be embossed into the fiber, not printed, due to food safety constraints. See image for example)
    • Less than X characters
    • At least 12 point font
    • Basic images/ symbols that can be easily seen


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

Ideas to Consider: 

  • This design challenge is open to individuals or teams.
  • 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? Who makes that decision? What constraints or limitations does your school cafeteria have in terms of what kinds of trays they can use? 
  • Think about how you can use your design to reduce food waste. Is there a lot of food thrown away in your cafeteria? What kind of food is thrown away? Why is it being thrown away? 
  • Consider conducting some interviews to understand what is important to the people who use these trays. “Users” may be more than students buying lunch. It might also be the cafeteria and custodial staff, the people who make the purchasing decisions, etc.. What is important to all of these people  in the design of a lunch tray?
  • 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 makes for cool and inspiring food packaging? 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?

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.

Ready to submit?

As an individual or as a team, submit a final tray design using the template that includes compartment layouts and any designs you’d like included.

Also, submit a short presentation (a slide deck, short flyer, video) explaining how your design is going to reduce the environmental footprint of school lunches.