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Friday, March 18, 2011

Waste-Free Lunches


Lately I spend quite some time in my son's preschool class - it might be because his younger brother is getting more and more interested in what's happening in there and refuses to leave.

I have to say though that what I see there around lunchtime is devastating: most kids are generating a big amount of waste, as their caregivers pack their food in in single-use plastic bags, aluminum foil, or wax paper, or they purchase single-serving items that come in their own disposable package.

What's the problem with this?

Landfills are getting fuller and fuller. Incinerators pump contaminants into the air. Communities are battling over who will accept the nation's trash. We all enjoy the conveniences of pre-packed foods (or at least some of us do), but very few of us are willing to allow new landfills and incinerators to be built in our own backyards.

I want to say most of the garbage we produce comes from the packaging on the food we buy, and lunch foods are no exception. 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!

What can you do to reduce lunch waste?

Get a good supply of reusable containers (if you buy them new, avoid plastic), made for example of stainless steel. There's a whole bunch of stuff out there, including containers for sandwiches, hot stuff, little eatables like carrots or fruit, sauces, water bottles etc. etc.
Don't buy prepacked foods - they're more expensive and less healthy.
Skip the disposable stuff like napkins, silverware and plastic water bottles. You teach your child (and/or yourself) a valuable lesson and save a lot of money.
I would also stop the habit of juice-boxes. The amount of garbage this habit creates is just ridiculous and having juice every day is just not healthy anyway.

This is What "Waste-free Lunches" says a waste-free lunch looks like:

A Typical American Lunch

  • sandwiches sealed in plastic bags
  • fruits and vegetables in plastic bags
  • prepackaged chips, cookies, fruit bars, granola bars, cheeses, and fruit leathers
  • prepackaged yogurts, apple sauces, and puddings
  • crackers, pretzels, chips, and other snack foods sealed in plastic bags
  • disposable juice boxes, juice pouches, soda cans, water bottles, and milk cartons
  • plastic forks and spoons
  • paper napkins
  • reusable lunchboxes and disposable paper and plastic bags

A Waste-Free Lunch

  • sandwiches and other main dishes, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and treats in a reusable lunch container
  • cloth napkins
  • stainless-steel forks and spoons
  • reusable drink containers
  • reusable lunchboxes
*With this type of lunch, lunch food items can be bought in larger quantities. The packaging can be left at home for reuse or recycling. Waste-free lunches are not only a wise environmental choice, but they are less expensive as well.


According to Waste-free Lunches, you can save about $250 per school year by packing waste-free lunches, and that is just the monetary saving, environmental and health savings not even included!

There are numerous ways to get reusable containers, bottles and other utensils. If you live in NNJ, I'd like to recommend go lightly - a green store with an owner that really, really cares about the environment. Another recommendation is Yellow Margosa, founded by a fellow green mom who offers environmentally friendly lunch boxes, containers and other cool stuff.

Happy waste-free lunching! Let me know how your change is going, please!


  1. Hi Manuela,

    Its great to see your informative article on waste-free lunches. My website, carries stainless steel lunch boxes that are a great way to pack a waste free lunch and also reduce food exposure to plastic.


  2. Hi Meenu - I knew I had forgotten something. I edited the post and added your website, which should really be in there. Thanks!!!