Did you know that the average school-age child in Canada produces over 66lbs of garbage at lunch each year? In a school with 380 students, that’s over 25,000 lbs of garbage in a school year. And that’s just 1 school!
With some planning, the right supplies and a commitment to producing less garbage, it’s easy to implement a “litterless” lunch.
- Stop buying single serving containers, snack pouches, water bottles and juice boxes. Instead buy a large tub of yogurt, juice or bulk granola bars and snacks and put portions into lunch/snack size reusable containers. We know it takes a bit more time (and more than 1 reminder to bring the containers home), but it’s worth it. Even if the single-serving containers are recyclable, most still end up in the landfill, or it takes significant energy consumption to actually recycle them. They may be convenient, but they cost significantly more and increase your garbage output.
- Get everyone involved. Young kids tend to like helping in the kitchen…encourage lunch “self sufficiency” at a young age, even if it does take longer in the short term to get those lunches packed. If your kids are slightly older, try implementing 1 day per week where they pack everyone’s lunch.
- Model the behaviour. If your kids see you throw a Starbucks cup in the garbage repeatedly, why would they change their behaviour? Look at your own lunch/coffee practices and see where you can cut the garbage.
- We know it’s hard to completely eliminate snack packaging, but if necessary, keep the packaging at home, where you can control how it is disposed of and send the food to school in a reusable container. Yes, some wraps do go straight into the garbage, must there are some innovative recycling companies out there. Check out www.pacificmobiledepots.com for one example.
- Many cities have implemented kitchen-waste pickup, immensely helpful for those of us who aren’t composters. If the school doesn’t have food waste pickup, ensure your kid brings the “leftovers” home for composting or proper disposal.
What do you need?
There are a lot of available styles to meet different needs. Key factors to consider:
- Size & weight of the bag when packed
- Ease of opening
- Insulated or not?
- Upright orientation or lift-up style lid?
- Multiple compartments or just 1?
- Materials & components- ensure it’s not made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), and that it doesn’t contain lead, cadmium or phthalates (you would be surprised how prevalent these harmful materials are in everyday products!)
Reusable Containers & Sandwich wrappers
- Size – You’ll need a variety of sizes, a larger one for the sandwich or salad or dinner leftovers. Medium containers are great for snacks and yoghurt. Small ones are for dip and things like raisins. Consider the weight of the containers.
- Materials – Containers can be stainless steel, silicone, glass, cloth replacements for baggies, or plastic (With plastic, its critical to ensure that they are BPA & phthalate free. Avoid #3, #6 & #7 plastics. If you must use plastic, ensure it’s got a polypropylene #5 triangle on the bottom, which is certified food safe. And despite manufacturers’ claims, don’t put hot food in the plastic or put the plastic in a microwave.)
- Leak-proof & air tight containers are needed for those who carry liquids.
- If your kids like food hot, use a thermos or glass or silicone container that can be used in a microwave.
It’s not that practical to pack glass unless it’s encased in neoprene or silicone. There’s a huge variety of affordable water bottles on the market – stainless steel, plastic, and aluminum. The same cautions with plastic apply, and if you have an aluminum bottle, once you’ve dropped it or banged it, there is the possibility that the epoxy coating may leach chemicals into the water.
Our favourite option is stainless steel. Most bottles either come with a loop top or “sports lid”. (Sports lids are easier to drink from, but may leak if placed on their side.) Think about how much fluid your kid drinks. Can they refill from the water fountain if they carry a smaller bottle? And yes, we’ve haven’t met a stainless steel bottle that doesn’t dent or lose some of its external paint. But like a favourite teddy, those “dings of love” just add character and don’t in anyway diminish performance.
Visit the local Value Village and spend a few bucks on stainless steel forks and spoons. Yes, your kid will probably lose one or two, but chances are they’ll also discover some of their friends as well, so it all works out. Cutlery sets in containers are also available, helping to prevent the lunch bag from getting “gunky”.
Avoid sending paper napkins if possible; just send some cloth ones from home, and wash them at the end of the week. Or biodegradable options exist as well.
It is indeed a mindshift to make your lunches away from home “litterless”. But, not only are you helping reduce waste, you may even find that once you make the commitment, your kids are suddenly eating less packaged foods and more “whole” and homemade foods – a sure added benefit to their overall health.