How to cut down on lunch waste this school year

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - JEN­NIFER MACDON­ALD

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!

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