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zero waste lunches and other things I do…

August 18, 2007

The kids and I are really revving up for school. We’ve previewed their classrooms, went shopping for school supplies and it’s time to start planning lunches and snacks. This has me thinking about what I really started thinking about last year- zero waste lunches.

In my many little “green living” things I do, this is one that I think will carry over in many ways to other people and their habits. First of all my children. As they get used to reusing their containers, lunch bag, water bottle, etc, instead of consuming and tossing the “remnants” into the garbage it will become second nature for them to do so. I’m hoping it will become strange for them to grab a juice box instead of pouring a cup of juice. I hope they will also make an impact on the children around them by making it more normal to not have the juicebox, prepackaged cracker snack and so on. Modeling behavior is very important at all ages, but especially at the younger ones.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a zero waste lunch check out this site or this one for general ideas and information. Or Google the term- trust me you’ll get tons of sites. I’ve done only part of the things I need to do so far to move in the direction of zero waste, but it is a journey.


First off, last year I made them cloth lunchbags that can be washed (shown above in the “ian-only” fashion of around the neck). I lined mine with nylon for easy wiping out and used a thermal layer to help keep in the cold as well, but neither step is necessary. I got the basic idea from this article, but there’s another easier (unlined) idea at this site using oilcloth. Mine held up all last school year and are entering their second year. Thea (my first grader) is a bit peeved at not getting a new one, but it was a good conversation starter on why we don’t need to or should buy a new lunch bag every year. Or a backpack with rollers–no matter how much she wants one! Reuse, wear out!

I also got Thea a thermos last year and Ian and myself ones for this year (the style I got them are actually termed food jars). That will be used for soup in the winter and anything else I can think of to put in there. Double bonus- less waste and wholesome, nutrious and WARM lunches for my kiddos (and me at school)! Last year also marked the purchase of aluminum water bottles for both kids to eliminate the plastic water bottle problem. I was bothered by them because of leaching and germs (especially in the reuse of them) and mass quantities of recycling we would have. Now this summer I have seen multiple articles on the plastic consumption fueled by these. So a good switch all around! I had previously bought myself one a couple years ago at Target but they don’t seem to carry them anymore. I have seen them at REI and Whole Foods (I think they carry the cute but a little pricey Sigg brand), but we found some “cute” ones at Border’s that coordinate with their cutsy stationary (which we did not however purchase). You can also search them at Amazon and come up with too many choices.

Regarding packaging food for the lunch bags I had to make some changes. I’ve always used wax bags (since I was a child and my father who excels in zero waste living in general set the example– see I told you modeling worked) because they are biodegradable. Problem is they break down so easily that if your food is too “wet” it will make a hole in the bag by lunch time- which can be messy. I use to use the wax for “dry” foods (crackers and p.b.& J.) and ziplocs for the wet, but last year I got some smaller plastic containers, including one I really liked that is square that can hold a sandwich or has 4 little compartments you can add so it can hold say 1/2 a sandwich and some cherry tomatoes and crackers. I also used the teeny tiny ones for dipping sauce, small veggie and fruit cuts, yogurt and so one. Of course the plastic leaching thing is always a concern, but I couldn’t find anything else- of course I’ve found the stainless steel ones now courtesy of angry chicken’s blog (but you can read my delimina on that on my previous post on green living).

This year I’m making at least 3 additions to last years changes.

1. I purchased some juice box substitutes (albeit plastic ones). I had previously still used juice boxs in additon to the water bottles, but this year I will fill the reusable “juice boxes” from a large jug. Apparently juice boxes use excessive packaging (like everything else!).

2. I am going to cut down on other excessive packaging handy snacks like cheese sticks and yogurt tubes and perhaps even granola bars. While they make my mornings a lot faster they do create a lot of trash (hence all the wrapping/droppings in my van).

3. I have always tried to send a cloth napkin with my children (when I remember) but this year I’m improving on that. Inspired by one a fellow preschool mom, Carolina, made her daughter last year I ‘m going to make them a rolled placemat that will have slots for their reusable silverware (as needed) and a pocket for their cloth napkin. I’m hoping this will make it even more fun for them to use the cloth napkin and eliminate some germ contact (although I’m not really a germ-phobe).

One last note is that a good place to get ideas on zero waste lunches is this blog- veganlunchbox. Even though her focus is on vegan lunches, there are many good ideas to be “stolen” or used as inspiration.

As long as you leave no evidence behind.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. alottaerrata permalink
    August 18, 2007 2:50 pm

    These are great ideas! I have no children, but I’m a graduate student and many times have to bring my dinner with me to class. I’ve stopped using vending machines in favor of anything I can bring with me, and use rubbermaid containers and my aluminum water bottle (though I find that unscrewing the cap is quite noisy and so I try to only open it once, at the beginning of class, and then just try not to knock it off my desk!)

    I also pack lunches for my husband everyday, and tried to make the switch to wax paper bags but he was not a fan of them. Perhaps it is time to switch to a reusable plastic container.

    Also, have you seen these reusable sandwich wraps that can double as a placemat?

  2. jessbcuz permalink*
    August 18, 2007 3:35 pm

    Thanks for that comment. I checked out that wrap site. Hadn’t seen those before— great idea– looks like you could probably make one pretty easily too.
    Re: trying not to know things off your desk at school- I am so with you on that! I’m naturally a bit clumsy these kind things are always happening to me. My water bottle has a “sport top” style so I don’t have to open it each time, but when it does fall it is EXTRA noisy!

  3. Sandy permalink
    August 21, 2007 7:46 am

    Hi Jess, As usual you and I are simpatico in this area! For years I have been irritated at the thoughtless use of clingfilm, just think millions of school lunches later it’s a horrifying thought! My solution is this: the girls complained that wax wrap left their sandwiches stale, so I just reuse ordinary small freezer bagsa with the foldover opening all week. Just as I reuse all my produce bags at the market and only use them in the first place if it’s really necessary ie NOT for bananas. In Australia most kids use a plastic lunchbox which is only replaced once every couple of years. I of course have all the girl’s old ones squirrelled away as can never bring myself to throw anything ‘useful’ out! Now they are 17 and 14 the girls demand brown paper bags which are made from recycled paper and go into the recycling yet again.

  4. spaghettipie permalink
    September 7, 2007 2:51 am

    I loved reading your post and got some great ideas. I actually found yo because I was doing a search for reusable juice boxes. Where did you buy yours?

  5. jessbcuz permalink*
    September 7, 2007 4:42 am

    I am using some plastic ones (which of course has it’s own issues but I think is still better then the disposable ones). I got them at Target in their tupperware aisle. They are leak proof and have a straw like spout that folds down. I believe they also have ounce measurements on the side so that you could also use if you wanted to make sure they only had 6 oz of juice or whatever.
    I’ve also gotten some nice smaller sized aluminum water bottles with plastic sport tops at Border’s in their stationary section– I’ve tried using these for juice but they are harder to clean so I tend to use them for water instead– I send my kids with juice & water- they can have one for snack and one for lunch time…
    hope that helped!


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