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Waste-Free Lunches

Lunch trash is uncool, so let's go to school on the subject of packing waste-free lunches.

Kids Can Eat Better and Have a Waste-Free Lunch

Ah, yes, the memorable days of sitting in the school cafeteria, eating my brown-bag lunch. I didn't mind the fresh fruit and raw vegetables that always seemed to find their way in there, but the mushy notes from Mom practically ruined my social standing.

In any event, tough-guy reputations aren't the only thing that can get trashed as part of a school lunch. Even healthy food usually comes in unhealthy wrappers, adding to the trash stream. Today's guest article is from Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services. She'll be discussing ways to reduce lunch trash and pack healthier food as well.

~    ~    ~

Save Cash and Trash: Packing Healthier Waste-Free Lunches

by Adria Vasil

I won't lie. I loved my juice boxes, pudding cups, and classic cream-stuffed snack cakes as a school kid. But they were all wrapped in plastic destined for the lunchroom garbage can (not to mention they were totally unhealthy!).

Add it all up and a typical student trashes a whopping 70 pounds of lunch packaging every year! Now, what if instead of reaching for pre-packaged munchies, parents everywhere bought snackables in bulk and placed them in their own reusable containers? By god, we'd have a lunchtime revolution! In fact, if every student packed a zero-waste lunch, we'd save 1.2 billion pounds from landfills a year.

You'll also save money packing your own (since individually wrapped foods tend to cost more) and end up with healthier lunches (since pre-packaged snacks often contain not-so-healthy, heavily processed ingredients).


Lunch Food and Containers

So how do you lighten your lunch load?

  • Say goodbye to disposable plastic bags. Get reusable sandwich-size sacks like the Lunch Skins at 3GreenMoms or the FreshSnackPack reusables at They're perfect for, yes, sandwiches, as well as chopped-up veggies like carrots, peppers, and celery.
  • Buy dry snack foods in bulk—stuff like nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, trail mix, or even organic cookies work well—then pack kid-sized portions in small, reusable food containers.

    NOTE: Don't buy containers made of clear, shatterproof polycarbonate plastic. They contain hormone-disrupting Bisphenol A (BPA)—the same stuff that made headlines when it was found in clear plastic baby bottles.
  • Purchase yogurt in quart containers and transfer a portion to a water-tight reusable container.
  • Pass on those pricey, packaging-heavy drink boxes and instead buy non-canned juice in large cartons/jugs. Pour a single portion into a polycarbonate-free drink canister like Thermos' Foogo. Or just put chlorine-free, home-filtered water in the container—that's way healthier than a shot of sugary, nutritionally dead OJ from a juice box!
  • Heat up last night's soup or stew and pour some in an insulated thermos for a homemade meal on the go.
  • Don't forget to toss a cloth napkin into the lunch box and, if necessary, some washable cutlery too.

When it comes to lunch boxes, stay away from anything made of vinyl, a.k.a. PVC. Back in 2005, California's Center for Environmental picture of girl with lunch box Health filed a lawsuit against some big-name makers of soft PVC lunch cases (including Toys 'R' Us, Warner Brothers, DC Comics and Time Warner) after testing revealed that their products contained high levels of lead.

Better to go for all-natural cloth boxes or even nylon. You'll find a bunch of alternatives online like these reusable lunch sacks at or at sites like—think funky organic and recycled cloth bags, stainless steel containers, and compartmentalized bento boxes or Laptop Lunch kits.


Max Action Beyond the Luncher-Dome

Move the Message School-Wide

Once you've got the knack of trash-free lunches, why not spread the message throughout your child's school? Consider forming a zero-waste lunch committee. If you've got a keen teacher on your side, you might even get students to kick things off with a garbage audit—think "Garbology 101"!—to measure how much trash goes in bins before and after lunch hour. The mini-researchers can put on rubber gloves and note what kind of disposables are taking up the most room.

Raise Cash for Trash

Whatever you do, don't let any disposables that you and other parents might still use end up in the landfill. Talk to your kid's school about saving them up and sending them packin' to be made into purses and pencil cases! Once you've collected a bunch of branded drink pouches, candy/cookie/energy bar wrappers, chip bags and yogurt cups, ship them off to the upcycling company TerraCycle and they'll give you 2 to 5 cents per package for your trouble. Set it up as a cash-for-trash fundraiser and you'll be garbage-free in no time!

©2009 Adria Vasil


Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services, is a best-selling author and journalist for Canada's NOW, where she has been writing the "Ecoholic" column for five years. She lives in Toronto. For more information please visit Ecoholic Nation.



Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services
(by Adria Vasil)

book cover for Ecoholic, by Adria Vasil, 7/20/2009 DESCRIPTION: Ecoholic is your guide to separating the green from the greenwashed. It names names and gives you the dirt on what not to buy, and why. It's filled with tips on everything from which seafood is safe to eat to greener choices for clothes, beauty products, and home supplies to getting the hormone disruptors out of your kids, your carpets, and even your love life. Veteran planet-saver David Suzuki says, "This book is for people who want to do something to lighten their impact on the planet."

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