Since school has started, here are ideas for making waste-free lunches for your munchkins. Reducing the amount of waste from school lunches at — and at work — can reduce the amount of trash ending up in landfills and maximize recyclings.
If you don’t have kids, you can incorporate the ideas for your own lunches.
Consider a typical school lunch:
• sandwiches in plastic bags
• fruits and vegetables in plastic bags
• packaged chips, cookies, fruit bars, granola bars, cheeses and fruit strip
• single-use yogurt, applesauce and pudding cups
• crackers, pretzels, chips and other snacks in plastic bags
• disposable juice boxes, pouches and cans, water bottles and milk cartons
• plastic forks and spoons
• paper napkins
• reusable lunchboxes or disposable paper and plastic bags
You can see how much waste can be generated by each lunch. Multiplying that by thousands of kids and teachers and adults eating lunch each day is mind-blowing. Some of the items can be recycled if the lunchroom is set up for it.
An option, however, is to look for ways to cut waste:
• Pack sandwiches and main dishes, fruits and vegetables, and treats in a reusable containers. There are even washable sandwich bags.
• Use cloth napkins
• Use reusable forks and spoons
• Use reusable drink containers
• Use reusable lunchboxes. Small icepacks can keep items cold.
This scenario also lets you buy food in bulk or larger packages so packaging is reduced. There are also money-saving advantages. The big packaging is left at home for reuse or recycling. Food waste also decreases because with a reusable lunch container, children can re-pack uneaten food instead of dumping it.
Educate your family
Education is the first step toward waste-free lunches. Talk to your children about waste-free lunches. Tell them why and let them choose their containers and food so they have ownership in the change.
Kids naturally want to take care of the earth. They’re tiny environmentalists. Unfortunately, our instant gratification, disposable lifestyles make them forget those instincts.
The most challenging part will be to change their routine of trashing all the lunch stuff left over.
Here are some tips:
• Teach children about recycling. Encourage them to help separate out recyclables.
• When you buy a lightly packaged item, point it out and ask if they can think of earth-friendly packaging alternatives.
• Take a trip to a landfill or recycling facility.
• Find books on waste reduction. Read them together and discuss how these issues relate to your lives.
• Discuss where foods come from and how much it is processed.
• Use reusable dinnerware and containers at home.
• When eating out, favor restaurants that use reusable plates, cups and utensils.
• If you don’t finish your restaurant meal, take it home in a reusable container that you’ve brought from home.
With guidance, children can grow up always looking for ways to reduce waste. To learn even more about ways to reduce waste, and recycle and for lunch menu ideas, check out our website www.keeplibertybeautiful.org.
Swida is executive director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.