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Zero Waste Lunch Tips

School lunchSchoolchildren recently started back to school toting sandwiches wrapped in plastic bags along with bags of chips, yogurt, napkins, plastic forks, juice boxes, cans and water bottles stuffed into paper bags.

Health wise, economically, and environmentally, however, these lunches leave a lot to be desired.

The disposable products in school lunches, such as the napkins, plastic bags and utensils, juice boxes, and individual bags of chips add an extra $250 per school year (per child) not even mentioning the environmental costs. With a typical American school child generating 67 pounds of discarded packaging waste per school year for lunches that means over 18,000 pounds annually for an average-size elementary school and one-billion pounds nationwide just from school lunches.

Go green and make it a goal to put sustainable practices into your children’s lunches all year long! Packing a nutritious lunch brought from home in reusable containers and making sure trash/recyclables get into the correct bin when discarding them are just a couple of ways to reach the goal of a zero waste lunch.

Tips on Going Green with School Lunches:

Think Reuse and Long Term Use: whenever possible, choose products that can be reused instead of single use items. For instance, instead of brown bags which don't insulate and tear easily, use a lunch box, thermos and reusable containers for snacks and sandwiches.  Or wrap up your lunch in a large piece of cloth and the cloth triples as placemat, napkin and lunch container. Just toss it in the machine to wash.

No more disposable plastic bags: Instead of buying plastic baggies year round, use reusable, washable pouches and containers to package bulk food into lunch portions. Let’s imagine one person uses 3 sandwich bags per lunch, one for a sandwich, one for sliced fruit, and one for pretzels. Multiply that by 180 days per school year and we’re potentially looking at 540 plastic bags per person per school year. Now consider the total number of students in the district— approximately 21,000 – and imagine half bring their own lunch (3 disposable sandwich bags each), we’re looking at 5.7 million disposable sandwich bags each school year going to the landfill! This is needless waste! We can do better! Click this link  to read Earth911’s article on food pouches. Reusable wraps and food pouches can be found at for example.

Buy Food in Bulk and Stay Local: Not only is buying fresh local food less taxing on the planet, it is also more beneficial by reducing the amount of waste produced, supporting local businesses and farmers, and providing healthy options. Teens can eat lunch at school instead of driving out.

Here is a link with zero waste lunch tips and an eye-opening cost comparison between a disposable lunch and a zero waste lunch. CalRecycle also offers some good tips for tips on back-to-school waste prevention.

One Ventura County school is cutting back on lunch waste by adopting the following policies. They would be good for everyone to adhere to:

  • Students who bring lunch or snacks to school will use only reusable containers or sacks.
  • All food in this container will be packaged in reusable containers.
  • Napkins must be cloth and reusable--no paper.
  • Students will not bring food to school that is packaged. Parents are encouraged to purchase food in larger quantities and then use reusable containers to send it to school.
  • Drinks must be in reusable containers or recyclable containers.
  • Acceptable recyclable containers include plastic with a recycling code of 1 or 2 on the bottom or aluminum cans.
  • No Glass. The preferable method is to send drinks to school in a Thermos or other container.
  • No straws are allowed.
  • Small box drink containers are prohibited.
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