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Plastic Free Commitment Blog Series: Pack a Waste Free Lunch

August 18, 2015
By: Rachel Harvey, Plastic Free Hawaiʻi Program Manager

The Plastic Free Hawai‘i Commitment Card is made up of 10 independent and important commitments that can help reduce your plastic footprint. Our third commitment in this blog series is: Pack Waste-Free Lunches

As children head back to school for a new year, it is a great time to reevaluate their lunch box. Kokua Hawaii Foundation has compiled some great ideas for kids (and adults) who pack a home lunch for work, school, or play.

It is estimated that the average school-age child with a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. In total, American school kids toss out 4.6 billion pounds of lunch waste each year. Moreover, lunchtime trash is second only to office paper as the leading source of school waste.

Switching to whole foods, bulk shopping, and reusable containers not only makes for a healthier meal and reduces wastes, it can save money too. Wastefreelunches.org calculates one can save almost $1.50 a day or $246.60 per school year per person.

Here are our top tips for how to pack a healthy and low waste lunch!

Start with great ingredients. Healthy lunches include foods that are close to the source, such as:

  • Fresh, seasonal, locally grown fruits and veggies
  • Dried fruits and nuts
  • Whole foods in their own packaging (an apple or banana comes in its own wrapper!)
  • Whole grains: brown rice, whole multi-grain breads, and pasta
  • Filtered tap water or low fat white milk

Your Waste-Free Lunch Kit should include:

  • Durable lunchbox or bag
  • Reusable food containers
  • Refillable drink bottle
  • Reusable fork and spoon
  • Cloth napkin

Food Grade Stainless Steel is a great lightweight, durable option as well as bamboo utensils like the PFH To-Go Ware Set. Some cool lunch essentials are available from Planet Box, Bentology, and ECOLunchBox. Check out ECOLunch boxes kickstarter for ocean friendly lunchware! A number of products can be found at Reuseit.com including items from Planet Wise and Klean Kanteen. Look for products that contain NO aluminum, Bisphenol A (BPA), lead, phthalates, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Several of these materials have been linked to negative health impacts.

One of the concerns we hear most from parents regarding packing durable products in a lunch box, is the fear (or reality) that kids will leave items behind or pitch them in the trash by accident. Have a conversation with your child about why a waste free lunch is so important and the value of reusable items. Put a note in their lunchbox. Start a reward system for bringing it all back home. Remember, too, you don’t have to buy new things to be green. You can reuse a number of store bought containers such as cottage cheese cups or salsa jars. And many gently used items, such as extra silverware, can be found at the local thrift shop.

Try to avoid the following:

  • Individually wrapped snacks
  • Glass containers with younger kids
  • Plastic baggies
  • Disposable forks, spoons, and straws
  • Bottled water, sodas, and juice boxes
  • Sugary drinks and sweets
  • Refined grains, processed foods
  • Red Flag Ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (in many brands of peanut butter), trans-fats, artificial colors and flavors

For a print out of these ideas for home or the classroom check out the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s Resources page for the Healthy Snacks & Waste-Free Classroom Celebrations and Healthy & Waste-Free Lunches tip sheets. The links above, as well as the EPA’s Pack A Waste-Free Lunch site, have even more resources for parents and teachers.