Greening up the Brown Bag

A great way to reduce your waste now that school is back in session is to pack your kids (or yourself) a waste-free lunch.  “What is a waste-free lunch,” you ask?  I’m glad you asked!  A waste-free lunch is a lunch that creates no trash.  At the end of the meal, what remains are all reusable items that can be brought home, washed and reused. 

  • Some things you might see in a waste-free lunch:  a reusable water bottle, cloth napkin, inexpensive utensils, reusable containers to hold the food items, and a reusable lunch bag, box or tote. 

  • Some things you WON’T see in a waste-free lunch:  juice boxes or juice pouches, plastic sandwich bags, paper napkins, individually wrapped items such as chips, cookies and crackers; and a paper or plastic bag to contain it all.

Why worry about lunch waste?  Well, have you seen a cafeteria trash can lately?  Seriously, it’s amazing the amount of stuff that gets tossed in the trash.  According to The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen, just one elementary school in the U.S. creates 18,760 pounds of trash per year.  Now, some of that is food waste that is being thrown out by our kids.  (And it’s probably the really healthy stuff too!  Arghh!)  But the rest is a bit more in our control.  By packing a waste-free lunch, “you could save $250 a year and as much weight in waste as the average nine-year-old.” (The Green Book)  Not only that, but by avoiding pre-packaged foods you and your family will probably be making healthier food choices as well. 

I’ve tried many different ways to pack waste-free lunches to find what I like and what works for me.  You can go with a basic approach and use reusable plastic food storage containers like you might use for leftovers at your house.  Glad and Ziploc both have brands that they consider semi-disposable.  I consider them reusable until they melt in the microwave or start smelling funky.  The only problem with those is that they take up a lot of room in the typical lunch box.  It can get a bit difficult to fit everything in.  That means you may need to buy a larger lunch box to fit the containers.

Another product I’ve used is the Laptop Lunch Box.  This system was inspired by Japanese bento boxes which can be take out boxes or a home-packed box filled with a meal for one person.  I like this system a lot but, being a vegetarian, my food tends to be a bit bulky so I really had to think about what I could pack in the bento box to make a complete lunch.  I believe the company has come out with larger containers which I haven’t tried.  If so, that would solve my problem.

What I use now is the Lunchopolis lunch box.  I like the insulated container which comes with a reusable (of course) drinking bottle and four containers of various sizes.  The large container is great for a sandwich or a salad.  The mid-sized container is great for fruit or veggies and the two small containers are perfect for crackers or dips like hummus.

There are so many products out there now for waste-free lunches that there is no way I could try them all.  However, there are some products that I would like to still try. 

Lately, I’ve had my eye on the Snack Taxi reusable sandwich and snack bags.  The bags are made of brightly printed fabric with Velcro closures.  They come in two sizes and look like a great alternative to plastic sandwich bags.  Another similar product is the lunchskins sandwich bags.  They have a slightly different closure system and, evidently, were featured on Oprah.  Guess they have to be good then!

I just found a product called the Reusable Paper Towel.  It’s basically cloth dish towels made from cloth diaper material which makes them very absorbent.  At $11 for 12 cloths, it sounds like a great deal to me.  Check it out for yourself!

Hopefully, these ideas and resources will give you some inspiration to strive for a waste-free lunch for yourself or your family.  Good Luck!


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