The lunch box task is part of the morning routine. Creating a lunch – one that is good for the midday diner and easy on the planet – is an eco-friendly way to start the day. Packing and portioning judiciously and utilizing reusables can help minimize what goes into the landfill.
Limiting food packaging reduces the resources used in their manufacturing and creates less waste. This is particularly important because much of the packaging used in lunchbox items – plastic baggies and juice packets, as examples – cannot be recycled through mainstream means.
Here are a few options that can decrease the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. Alternatives to plastic bags. Sandwiches can be wrapped in a cloth napkin, reusable sandwich bag, or reusable wax paper.
Some of the healthiest foods – produce such as grapes and carrots – typically do not come in packaging. These can be cut up and sent in reusable containers or reusable snack bags.
• Realistic portion control. Considering the size of portions can limit the food that goes in the trash. Leftovers, rather than wasted can be frozen in single portions for later use for a lunch at work or school.
• Cloth napkins and reusable utensils. Liquid can be packed in a reusable bottle that keeps them cold – a much better option than individual-serving water bottles or juice or milk boxes that can create unnecessary waste.
• Buying large, packing small. Instead of purchasing individual servings of snacks (for example, pretzels), it is greener to buy a larger size and pack individual servings in reusable cloth snack bags. These are easily washed in the dishwasher and last a long time.
• Sturdier containers. Stainless steel and glass containers and bento-box-style trays are good investments, because they keep a lunch fresh
and last longer than single-use packaging. A thermos will hold a full serving of chili or pasta for a full meal.
• No straws. Straws are rarely necessary, but paper is better than plastic. Plastic straws are not recyclable and can end up harming wildlife. If a straw is a non-negotiable part of lunch, paper or re-usable stainless-steel straws may work.
Involving the kids in the lunchbox making process is a great learning opportunity that teaches them tons about both nutrition and waste reduction. More information about reduced waste lunches can be found at http://wastefreelunches.org/index.html. Mighty Nest is a local business that carries a large selection of waste-free lunch supplies but these can be found at many other stores so a special trip is often unnecessary.
Lastly, let’s be realistic. Life gets crazy and there is no way (at least for me) to abide by these measures 100% of the time but, with a little planning, the lunchbox is a place where we can make a significant difference in terms of our ecologic footprint.