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New Climate for Action: Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

2008 October 28

About the author: Ashley Sims, a senior at Indiana University, is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through the Washington Leadership Program.

Managing money is something a student has to learn, particularly as the cost of living rises. If money grew on trees my life would be a lot easier – unfortunately it doesn’t. I try to save as much money as I can during the week so I can have plenty left over to enjoy my weekends. My roommates and I try to take a lunch to work every single day – eating out can be very expensive. Plus, some students might get fed up with school lunches. Packing your lunch is cheap, reduces trash and saves energy too!

Lots of trash is generated from the packaging on food and disposable lunches. Did you know that each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year? That means, just one average-size middle school creates over 40,000 pounds of lunch waste a year. That’s a lot of trash! Getting rid of the trash or waste uses energy and releases greenhouses gases into the environment. Start a waste-free program at your school to keep landfills from overflowing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A waste-free lunch program involves educating students, parents, and school staff about where our trash ends up and how we can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs support the use of reusable food containers, drink containers, utensils, and napkins. They discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes and pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while packing your lunch to school or work.
Do include:

  • Sandwiches in reusable containers
  • Whole fruits without packaging
  • Drinks in containers that can be reused, such as a thermos, or recycled, such as a can
  • Snacks purchased in bulk and brought in reusable containers

Don’t include:

  • Individually wrapped snacks
  • Plastic baggies that are not reusable
  • Disposable forks and spoons
  • Straws

Your waste-free lunch program will help create a new climate for action by reducing trash, saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And you will save money too! Be sure to let me know what you are doing to reduce lunch waste.

For more information on Waste-Free Lunches go to http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/education/lunch.htm

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    October 28, 2008

    I try to bring a waste-free lunch to work everyday. I use a reusable lunch bag, reusable containers for sandwiches, trail mix, carrots, etc., and use a reusable container for water. This became especially important to me when our cafeteria switched ownership and started using styrofoam for everything (cups, soup bowls, plates, etc)! I try very hard to never purchase anything from them (its hard when I accidentally leave my lunch on the counter at home) so that I’m not supporting them.

    I have a question. I use tupperware-like reusable containers for my food. Can you suggest any potentially healthier containers that are suitable for travel (not glass)? I am afraid of the possible health side effects of using plastic containers….

  2. Linda permalink
    October 30, 2008

    I don’t generally brown-bag it for lunch these days, though when I do, I use reusable containers and flatware carried in an insulated lunch box. One choice I *did* make a few years ago is to green up my caffiene habit — I really enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, but I hate the idea of all those disposable cups and plastic spoons going in the trash. Of course the fix is simple; I brought one of my favorite ceramic mugs from home, along with a nice stainless steel spoon. Coffee and sugar are purchased in bulk and stored in glass jars for office use, so there aren’t any little paper packets to toss away. Plus, I make the coffee in a French press, so no paper filters either. And of course the coffee grounds come back home with me to feed my compost heap.

  3. Mirele Goldsmith permalink
    November 3, 2008

    What advice do you have for a summer camp which purchases pre-packaged lunches for campers? What should I be asking the vendor to do to reduce waste? Do you know of any resources on this topic? Most of the information on the internet seems to be about convincing kids and parents to pack a greener lunch. But I need to persuade vendors. Thank you for your help.

  4. Ashley-EPA permalink
    November 10, 2008

    Don’t be afraid-there are ways to prevent possible health side effects.
    The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) have developed a fact sheet on plastics and health. The fact sheet discusses some of the chemicals found in some plastics and how to avoid exposure. The fact sheet can be found at http://aoec.org/PEHSU/documents/bpa_patient_july_8_08.pdf

    The PEHSUs are a network of children’s environmental health experts who receive grant funding from EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. For more information about PEHSUs, check out http://aoec.org/PEHSU/index.html

  5. Ashley-EPA permalink
    November 10, 2008

    Wow Linda-that’s pretty impressive. A lot of people in my office have done the same thing-bring their favorite ceramic mug and steel spoons to work. It’s a great way to avoid disposable cups and plastic spoons. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Ashley-EPA permalink
    November 10, 2008

    Good question. I would say to encourage others to write letters to vendors who pre-packaged unnecessary lunches. Check out some EPA resources:

    Go to http://www.epa.gov/osw/ -Federal program that provides information on how to reduce waste at home, work, and school.

    Also check out Reuse + Recycling = Waste Reduction: A Guide for Schools and Groups. This resource can be found at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/education/pdfs/school.pdf

    I hope that might help.

  7. Ben permalink
    January 10, 2009

    There is a great alternative for those worried about using plastic.
    LunchBots makes a great stainless steel container for sandwiches and snacks.
    Its a healthy alternative to plastic for kids lunch as well as a work lunch.

  8. ecomommy permalink
    January 10, 2009

    Personally, I don’t believe there is such a thing as healthy plastic (especially for food storage) no matter what the experts say! I too use LunchBots to pack lunch for my kids and work.

  9. Inchirieri masini permalink
    February 9, 2009

    I too use LunchBots to pack lunch for my husband.

  10. Rent a car permalink
    February 9, 2009

    I’m using one too.

  11. Johny permalink
    February 9, 2009

    Most of the information on the internet seems to be about convincing kids and parents to pack a greener lunch

  12. Paul permalink
    February 9, 2009

    I really enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, but I hate the idea of all those disposable cups and plastic spoons going in the trash.

  13. Paul C permalink
    February 12, 2009

    Convincing kids and parents to pack a greener lunch is not bad…

  14. Alessadra Protesca permalink
    February 17, 2009

    Sorry for my question, but it’s kinda normal i think. In my uni, people bring in school apples and milk (which they drink with straws by the way. In this way, the packs are biodegradable right? I mean once you have the paper from the milk box, and the apple is in napkins generally, so it supposed to be good.

  15. Lindsey permalink
    March 26, 2009

    I was just wondering if it was safe to use the tupperware that says it’s microwave safe for cooking food. I just bought one and was wondering if it was if the microwave safe symbol is meant for me or the tupperware.
    Thanks

  16. Victor permalink
    May 21, 2010

    It’s a great way to avoid disposable cups and plastic spoons. Thanks for sharing your story.

  17. Victor permalink
    May 21, 2010

    I always use tupperware cases .

  18. Victor permalink
    May 21, 2010

    We have to take care of the environment.

  19. http://nusantaracooking.blogspot.com/ permalink
    February 10, 2012

    We have to take care of the environment.

  20. Mark permalink
    May 18, 2013

    I just bought one and was wondering if it was if the microwave safe symbol is meant for me or the tupperware.

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