The “Green” School Lunch

A great goal for the coming school year is to pack "green lunches" for your kids that not only are nutritious but are also free of waste. A typical child packing a disposable lunch produces 67 pounds of waste per school year. An average-sized elementary school can send as much as 19,000 pounds of lunch waste material to landfills each year. This includes paper bags, plastic zip lock bags, plastic wrap, plastic cutlery, drink boxes, and straws - very little of which is recycled. Below are some simple steps for making those lunches less wasteful.

Use reusable bottles for drinks and use containers for food items. Disposable bottles or juice boxes are a tempting convenience, but you’ll save money and reduce waste by filling a reusable bottle with filtered water from your tap or with milk or juice from a gallon jug. Put chips, veggies, crackers, cheese and other lunch items in reusable plastic containers.

You may also consider avoiding the small, prepackaged yogurt containers. It is cheaper to buy the larger containers and scoop portions into reusable lunch containers. An added benefit of this approach is that you can gradually move kids away from the super sweet, flavored yogurts to more healthful plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit.

Another step is to eliminate the throw-away plastic. Wrap sandwiches in reusable wrap-n-mats, instead of plastic film or sandwich bags. The wrap-n-mats are practical because they unfold to form a placemat for your child’s lunch. And they clean very easily with a wipe of a damp sponge.

Next, stop using disposable plastic forks and spoons. Stainless steel cutlery or heavy duty plastic cutlery is inexpensive, especially when you consider the amount of re-use over their lifespan (even allowing for periodic episodes where they go missing).

Perhaps the most difficult disposable item to avoid is the paper napkin. Cloth napkins or handkerchiefs may be suitable alternatives.

When choosing lunch boxes, bags, or bottles made from plastic – look for those that do not contain lead, BPA, or phthalates. These unhealthful substances can leach into lunch foods over time. Avoid products made with vinyl (often identifiable with a “number 3” recycle symbol) – they are particularly bad for leaching phthalates, especially when exposed to heat (avoid putting plastics through the “dry cycle” in your dishwasher). See our full line of school lunch supplies.

Finally, don’t forget about the “upstream packaging”. When shopping for food, use reusable produce and carry bags. And when preparing lunches, compost any leftover food scraps.

You and your kids can feel good about these small daily steps to reducing your impact on the environment.