Until now, we’ve relied on convenience to drive decisions about packing our kids school lunches: paper bags, baggies aluminum foil, individual and single-serving packing. All this waste ends up in the garbage when lunchtime ends. What is the environmental cost of this disposable mindset? One estimate suggests that for each school-age child who tosses the lunch bag and its contents, 67 pounds of waste is generated per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste per average elementary school.

How can you help reduce lunch time waste? A waste-free lunch begins with a reusable lunch bag and reusable food and beverage containers; even cloth napkins and silverware.

Here are some reasons to make the effort to send your children to school with a waste-free lunch:

* By creating less garbage, you will save landfill space.
* You'll be saving on electricity by reducing the use of fossil fuels needed to produce the plastic bags, plastic utensils, and other disposables.
* You'll save trees by using cloth napkins in place of paper napkins and paper bags
* You will pass along the right messages to your children (if they haven't already presented the idea to you!)

What does a waste-free lunch look like?

A Typical American Lunch

¨ sandwiches wrapped in aluminum or waxed paper

¨ fruits and vegetables in baggies

¨ prepackaged chips, cookies, fruit bars, granola bars

¨ individually wrapped cheese slices

¨ prepackaged yogurt, applesauce, and pudding

¨ crackers, pretzels, chips, and other snack foods sealed in plastic bags

¨ juice boxes/pouches, water bottles,

¨ plastic forks and spoons

¨ paper napkins

¨ disposable paper lunch bags

A Waste-Free Lunch

¨ sandwiches, pasta, salads, fresh fruit, vegetables in reusable containers

¨ cloth napkins

¨ stainless-steel forks and spoons

¨ reusable drink containers

¨ reusable lunchboxes

*Food items are bought in family-size quantities to be used as needed. The packaging gets recycling after use. Waste-free lunches are not only a wise environmental choice, but they are less expensive as well.

What does it cost to pack a lunch?

A Disposable Lunch Costs $4.02/day or $723/year

A Waste-free Lunch Costs: $2.65/day or $477/year

So, You're already sending an Environmentally Sound Lunch?

Why not work with your PTA to plan a Waste Free Lunch Day?

Author's Bio: 

Jodi R. Godfrey, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian with 25 years of experience promoting health and wellness. My focus is working with families to develop good nutrition and lifestyle habits and I take a special interest in working with women from pregnancy through family meal planning. Ms. Godfrey is an accomplished writer. For more than a decade, she has been contributing editor to the Journal of Women’s Health, a peer reviewed, multidisciplinary publication and she hosts the blog, Feeding Kids and You, feedingkidsandyou.blogspot.com.

She was nutrition editor for Santé, a gourmet cooking magazine featuring heart-healthy eating, and 2 books: The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide: Fresh Ideas for Making Wholesome, Earth-Friendly lunches Your Kids Will Love (T. Morning Run Press, 2002) and On Your Way To Fitness: A Practical Guide to Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Weight and Physical Fitness (The C. Everett Koop Foundation, 1995). Her articles have appeared in newsletters including: the Cornell-Weill Food and Fitness Advisor, Environmental Nutrition, C. Everrett Koop Health Letter and P&S Journal (the alumni magazine for Columbia University’s medical school).