How to cut down on lunch waste this school year
Many schools, communities and workplaces across Canada are promoting the “litter-less lunch” – in the interest of healthy eating, the environment, and peoples’ pocket books.
According to data from North Glenmore Elementary School in British Columbia, a school-age child bringing a disposable lunch to school every day generates approximately 30 kg of waste in a school year. That means a class of 25 produces about 737 kg (1,625 lbs) of lunchroom waste per year. North Glenmore has endeavored to reduce that to near zero.
By being more aware of what we are packing in our lunch portioning out food ourselves, choosing fresh rather than prepared - nutritionists assert we can reduce our intake of sodium and sugars significantly. Pre-packaged foods typically have large quantities of those types of additives, as compared to whole foods. A quick Google search of “lunchables” (a common meat-cheese-cracker type pre-packaged food) reveals the high levels of fructose, corn syrup, sodium and various additives (required for shelf life, color, etc.) that we don’t typically cook with at home.
Green Calgary compiled data on lunch expenditures that showed that over 60% of Canadian employees buy lunch at least once a week spending an average of about $9 per meal. That works out to almost $500 a year. Often those lunches come with a lot of waste such as non-recyclable wrappers and disposable utensils that just end up in our landfills after a single use. When it comes to kids’ lunches, Heather Loney of the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, Ontario says their data shows that the average “packed lunch” with disposable containers and packaging costs about $4.00 whereas a litter-less packed lunch costs about $2.60.
Another benefit of litter-less lunches for kids, according to Cedarvale Community School in Toronto, is that anything left over from a child’s lunch goes back home, rather than into the trash. This allows the “lunch-maker” to know what is and isn’t being eaten, allowing for discussion around what kind of lunch will work for both parent and child.
Litter-less lunches make sense, but making it practical and sustainable for busy folks trying to head out the door is key if people are going to jump on board.
Switching to reusable drink containers rather than plastic water bottles, juice boxes or coffee cups is a great first step. Having two or three containers on hand makes it easier to grab and go (so you always have a clean option!). Having tight sealing food containers in various sizes at the ready is key - mason jars in various sizes work great, as do sturdy glass containers, especially since they can be put in the freezer, microwave and dishwasher if need be. The cost of the containers will be saved when you reduce the amount of plastic wrap, small baggies and tin foil that you may have once used to wrap food. A container will also prevent the dreaded squished sandwich! Beeswax wrap is now readily available as another alternative to plastic wrap, and it can be composted when its lifespan is met. A reusable lunch bag or box with utensils and a few cloth napkins is an investment that only needs to be made once every few years.
Most bulk items are less expensive than the single serving sizes. Try buying apple sauce, yogurt, cereal and granola in larger quantities and portioning them out. Making large batches of muffins or cookies and having them in the freezer makes for quick grab-and-go packs.
Soup can easily be frozen in mason jars and taken out when you’re in a rush. You can also freeze items like yogurt and applesauce, using them as “freezer packs” for your lunch. By the time lunch rolls around, they’ll have thawed but still be cold.
Embracing leftovers is much easier when you’ve got appropriate sized containers to pack them in. Pack them after supper and your lunch prep is done. Plus, there will be no more uneaten leftovers shoved to the back of the fridge.
Fresh fruit often comes in its own “packaging” - bananas, apples, oranges – which can simply be composted.
Need more inspiration? There are hundreds of websites that promote this initiative, so get Googling!