waste free lunch

Make School Lunches Healthy and Green

By Lina Younes

Like many parents, I’ve been looking for bargains in school supplies to get my youngest ready for the new school year.  As we do our shopping, I’m especially interested in looking at lunch boxes and the like. This year, I want to make sure that I make healthier food selections for my child and reduce the amount of waste in the process.

When you come to think of it, disposable items might seem “practical,” but they just generate waste in the long run.  Picture an average school lunch:  a drink, a sandwich, some chips, something for desert all packaged in a brown bag. If your child takes this food to school in disposable containers and wrappings every day, how many pounds of garbage will be generated per month? Per year? Not a pretty picture at all.

Here are some Waste-Free Lunch tips for the new school year:

  • Use a reusable lunch box instead of a brown bag.
  • Package sandwiches and food in reusable containers.
  • Give your child whole fruits without packaging in their lunch box. Not only is it greener, but it is healthier too!
  • Purchase snacks in bulk and package them in reusable containers.
  • Include reusable forks and spoons in your child’s lunch box.
  • Don’t use disposable water bottles. Use a reusable bottle instead.
  • Use reusable napkins, not paper ones.

In fact, I found some napkins made of recycled water bottles! When I bought them I felt that they were truly green! Increasingly, you can find numerous school supplies and consumer items made from recycled materials. So, with planning you can make sure your child’s school year gets off to a good start. You can work together with your school and community to make waste reduction a part of their daily lives. Remember, environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Lunchroom Battles!

The 7th grade doesn’t know it yet, but we 6th graders are going to win the Going Green competition at school, which also means…….PIZZA PARTY!!  Ok, so the pizza party would be awesome to win and so would rubbing it in to the 7th and 8th graders, but that’s not the point.  We’ve really learned something!

A few weeks ago, you heard from Brandon about how his class is using the 3 R’s to use less paper and make less waste.  Their classroom does look neater, but so does our lunchroom now. Thanks to us!

The 6th grade decided a bigger impact can be made where we eat, in the lunchroom.  Our class pledged to create a waste-free lunchroom.  It took some research, but we created a plan that included using less and reducing waste in the lunchroom. Instead of buying milk or soda cans for lunch, we’re using water bottles with juice or soda from home. If we bring lunch from home, it’s in a reusable container so paper and plastic baggies aren’t used.  There’s also a supply of reusable utensils that everyone has access to instead of using and throwing away plastic forks and knives. We have also taken old plastic barrels and made them recycling containers –one for the aluminum trays that contained our lunch, one for milk cartons, and one for waste.  We even talked our teacher into helping us build a compost bin for any food waste left over from lunch that can be used as compost.  Each week a few students are selected to clean any dirty aluminum trays and put any food waste in the compost bin.  It’s a dirty job, but there’s extra credit for the hard work.  In the last 3 weeks, our lunchroom ladies have reported only having to use 2 trash bags for waste instead of the usual 6 for all three classes.  The aluminum trays and any soda cans have totaled $86.72 in recycling cash too!

When I stop to think about it, it’s not about the competition anymore.  It’s about making our school better.  Our teacher calls it sustainable. I call it GREEN.

How did we come up with the idea? We did some research on the EPA’s website at: http://www.epa.gov/osw/education/toolkit-res.htm

Josh is a middle school student in inner city Chicago. He has played the violin since he was 4 and hopes to someday be part of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Never Too Late For A New Year Resolution

Part of my morning routine consists of packing my youngest daughter’s lunch. Although her school encourages waste-free lunches, I have found that lately I haven’t been observing green practices. Let me explain. Even though I had purchased several sets of reusable plasticware, these reusable containers remained in the cabinet untouched. On the other hand, I was using, on average, two disposable sandwich bags daily for her lunch. Those disposable bags add up. When you come to think of it, these bags just end up as trash in our landfills.

I must confess that being green can take extra work. Call it laziness or simply a bad habit, but you can easily fall into the trap of not minimizing waste, not saving energy, or not saving water. So, I decided that even though it’s February, I was going to set a new green New Year resolution for myself. I am committing to using reusable containers when preparing lunches for my daughter and myself. By abiding by this pledge on a daily basis, I will prevent more than 500 disposable plastic sandwich bags from reaching our landfills in one year.

So, even though many of our traditional resolutions may have not survived the first week in January, it would be nice to recommit our efforts to going green. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. How have you been able to minimizing packaging and waste at lunch time? Remember, we cannot promote any commercial brands or products, but tips are definitely welcomed because it’s never too late to go make a new green resolution any day of the year.

For more suggestions on how to reduce wastes and recycle, visit our consumer tips. [http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/wycd/funfacts/index.htm ] I’m sure that you will find something green that you can do today.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.