Waste-Free Lunches: Go Green

As people have become busier and busier, marketers have found ways to cleverly address our needs: disposable Tupperware means fewer dishes to deal with; paper bags, plastic cutlery and Ziploc bags make lunch-packing quick and easy. Single-serving items such as individual apple sauces, pre-packs of celery and peanut butter, etc. are easy to grab and go. But somewhere along the line, all of this convenience has become the bane of our society.

Wastefreelunches.org estimates that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. Nothing is more sadly poignant than children collectively contributing to the issues they will have to solve in the future.

That’s why the waste-free lunch idea really appeals to us. While it’s most effective if you can advocate your child’s school or your workplace start an official program, going waste-free for lunch is something all of us can easily incorporate into our lives.

What does a waste-free program consist of and how do I learn more? A waste-free lunch program is a process of educating students, parents, and school staff about where our trash ends up and how we, as individuals, can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs favor the use of reusable food containers, drink containers, utensils, and napkins. They discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes and pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils.

To learn how to go about starting your own program, visit the “How to”  link on Wastefreelunches.org. They have wonderful resources that can be leveraged such as goal sheets, task sheets and phone lists for participants.

How can I start living waste-free for myself and my family? It’s certainly understandable if you don’t have time to start your own program. Going waste-free for lunch is something you can easily incorporate into your own life. Here are some tips:

* Start with the food. Fresh fruit such as apples and bananas, for example, need no packaging.

* Sandwiches, fresh cut-up vegetables, and treats can be stored in reusable lunch containers.

* Cloth napkins are not just for fancy meals anymore! In fact, make it fun: take your child to a second hand store for a “napkin treasure hunt” and find the napkins that he likes; or take her to a fabric store and let her pick a design of her own. Nothing is easier than cutting a piece of cotton fabric (organic??) and calling it a napkin!

* Stainless-steel forks and spoons are already at home. If you’re worried about losing pieces from a set, pick up some spares at garage sales or second hand stores.

* Reusable drink containers (we like the stainless steel Klean Kanteen).

* Reusable lunchboxes: OK we have a confession to make. We still have our Benji lunchbox from when we were carrying around a reusable lunchbox. It’s time to bust that puppy (literally!) out again!

* Buy lunch food items in larger quantities. Using the apple sauce example again…rather than buying individual cups, purchase one large jar. The packaging can be left at home for reuse or recycling. Single servings can be put into reusable containers. This is not only environmentally-friendly, it’s also budget-friendly since “convenience”  often equals “more money”.

The money breakdown: So how much are you saving by going waste-free? Here’s an example:

Disposable lunch: Egg salad sandwich ($1.25), yogurt ($.85), granola bar ($.45), apple ($.30), package of carrots and dip ($.65), three plastic bags ($.12), juice pouch ($.35), one plastic spoon ($.04), one paper napkin ($.01) = $4.02/$20.10 a week/$723.60 a year

Waste-free lunch: Egg salad sandwich ($1.25), serving of yogurt ($.50), serving of granola ($.35), apple ($.30), serving of carrots and dip ($.25), water (0), stainless steel spoon (0), cloth napkin (0), packaging (0) = $2.65/$13.25 a week/$477.00 a year.

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