Go Green: Tips for Waste-Free School Lunches


The following is a guest post from Lisa Baumgartner, founder & CEO of Funkins


In the age of convenience and with the demands faced by modern families, packed lunches don’t look the same as they did 20 years ago.  Have we become a “disposable” society?

As busy parents, we have come to depend on the many convenience products that are now available to us.  Nowhere is that more evident than when we shop for our children’s lunches.   The easiest, and often the least expensive lunch box items are sold in single-use, disposable packages.

Undeniably, these items are extremely convenient, but what is the environmental cost of consuming single-use items in such vast quantities?  Would we change our ways if we knew that American school kids toss out a shocking 4.6 billion pounds of lunch waste each year?  And that 3,460,000 tons of tissues and paper towels end up in landfills every year?

As a child, I remember sitting in the kitchen, watching my grandma pack my grandpa’s big metal lunch box (which he used for more than 40 years).   There was always a thermos, plus food packed in metal or glass containers, along with a cloth napkin.  Back then, our school lunch boxes looked very much the same.  Our food wasn’t wrapped in plastic bags, foil wrap, or plastic wrap; yogurt didn’t come in tubes; juice didn’t come in foil pouches; and we didn’t use paper towels, all of which would end up overburdening our landfills.

It wasn’t until I started a family of my own, and my youngest son started preschool that I appreciated how drastically things had changed, and how much trash young families can generate.   I fully credit the teachers at our little Montessori School for their role in educating us parents, and for instilling in our children a strong commitment to being kind and respectful to our environment.   The school’s waste-free lunch policy was so simple, yet made such a huge impact in reducing trash, while helping teach our children valuable eco-considerate habits for life.

What is a “waste-free” lunch? 

A waste-free lunch replaces disposable bags, plastic wrap, foil, single-use cartons, pouches, cans and paper towels with reusable containers, reusable cutlery, and cloth napkins.

Three Easy Steps, one BIG Impact

Packing a waste-free lunch is easier than you think, and these ideas are great for school, work, travel, and play.

1. Invest in a reusable lunch bag.  Replace toss-away paper or plastic bags with a durable lunch bag or box that can be used again and again.

2. Use only reusable food and drink containers and cutlery.  Juice boxes are the most inorganic trash and retain their weight, volume and form for at least four decades. Stainless steel, glass or BPA free plastic containers are much better options and are widely available on the market.

3. Switch to cloth napkins.  The number of tissues and paper napkins going into landfills worldwide is staggering.   Cloth napkins are easy to wash in with the regular laundry – a simple replacement with a big impact.  Also, paper comes from trees, so, quite simply, the fewer trees we use, the better it is for our earth.

(Cloth napkin from Funkins’ “Pick a Bunch” Collection)

What can my family, school, office or playgroup do to help?

Encourage all of your families and co-workers to pack waste-free lunches.  The ideal is to educate our communities about where lunch trash ends up, and what we can do to reduce the amount of garbage that we generate.  Remember, every little bit counts:  we must all make an effort to reduce our consumption, and while recycling is great, reusing is even better.  Teaching our children through the examples we set is key.

Busy Mom-Tip:  In our home, we spend time together Sunday mornings washing and preparing our fruits, veggies and snacks for the week.   We put them into reusable containers, which make getting lunches ready each morning quicker and easier.  And, as a bonus, when kids are involved in preparing their lunches, there is a greater the likelihood they are going to eat everything in their lunch boxes while at school.

For more information on waste-free lunches, how to start a waste-free lunch program at your school or office, fundraisers, and for information on cloth versus paper napkins, please visit myfunkins.com.

Mompreneur, Lisa Baumgartner, is the Founder & CEO of Funkins, manufacturer of award-winning Funkins cloth napkins for kids. 



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