Ten Tips for Packing a Waste-Free Lunch

Waste-Free lunch with several reusable containers
  1. Start with a reusable lunch box or lunch bag. Avoid single-use items like paper bags. Personalize, monogram, or label your lunchbox, lunchbag, and re-usable items so they do not get lost.
  2. Pack reusable utensils and straws. Avoid disposable, plastic forks, spoons, and knives. Pack utensils made of durable plastic*, bamboo, or stainless steel. Consider buying used utensils from a thrift store.
  3. Use food containers made of cloth, durable plastic, glass, or stainless steel that can be re-used. Avoid plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil. Use a Thermos for hot items, like soup or pasta.
  4. Purchase a refillable beverage container. Avoid single-serving drink boxes, pouches, cans, and bottles. Reusable water bottles are the healthiest and least expensive drink option.
  5. Pack your own dips and condiments. Single-use items are expensive and cost more money in the long run. Use small, re-usable containers for salad dressings, ketchup, and other condiments and side dishes.
  6. Skip the straw. A plastic straw has become a symbol of unnecessary, single-use plastic pollution for the sake of convenience. If you need a straw, purchase one that is reusable and easy to clean.
  7. Consider your napkin. If you prefer paper napkins, purchase napkins that are made from 100% recycled paper. If you use cloth napkins, use environmentally safe detergent to wash them and line-dry them to save energy.
  8. Compost leftover fruit or vegetable waste. If composting is not currently offered, investigate what it would take to implement a composting program at home, school, or the office. Every item you compost makes a difference.
  9. Challenge yourself to eliminate as much waste as possible. Avoid single-use products. Recycle and re-use bottles, plastics, and cans. Host a waste-free challenge to see how small changes can lead to big reductions in waste.
  10. Have fun! Add your own personal style and creativity to your waste-free meals. Consider making your reusable snack bags, lunchbags, and napkins. Or consider purchasing these items or materials at your local thrift store.

Making these seemingly small changes, can make a big difference and help protect our environment. However, these changes can take time and money. If it seems too expensive, start small and recognize you will save money over time, especially if you ditch the more expensive, single-serve products and buy in larger quantities. For example, buying one large bag of pretzels and putting them in your own reusable containers is much cheaper than buying individual, single-serving bags of pretzels.

Finally, take into consideration the age and developmental abilities of the person who will be eating the lunch you are packing. Some containers and lids are more difficult to open than others. Test your products to confirm they are user-friendly. This will also make the transition to waste-free lunches more enjoyable for everyone involved.

* Due to concerns related to plastic, medical professionals and researchers suggest avoiding the use of plastic to store, re-heat, or cook food (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-plastic-a-threat-to-your-health).

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