New Climate for Action: Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

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