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Save Cash and Trash: Packing Healthier Waste-Free Lunches
By Adria Vasil,
Author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services

I won't lie. I loved my juice boxes, pudding cups and classic cream-stuffed snack cakes as a school kid -- but they were all wrapped in plastic destined for the lunchroom garbage can (not to mention totally unhealthy!). Add them all up and a typical student trashes a whopping 70 pounds of lunch packaging every year!

Now, what if instead of reaching for pre-packaged munchies, parents everywhere bought snackables in bulk and placed them in their own reusable containers? By god, we'd have a lunchtime revolution! In fact, if every student packed a zero-waste lunch, we'd save 1.2 billion pounds from landfill a year. You'll also be saving some serious coin (since individually wrapped foods tend to cost more) and coincidentally cutting out many of the not-so-healthy heavily processed ingredients that often come with pre-packaged snacks.

So how do you lighten your lunch load?

  • Say goodbye to disposable plastic baggies. Get reusable sandwich-size sacks like Lunch Skins (3greenmoms.com). They're perfect for, yes, sandwiches, as well as chopped up veggies like carrots, peppers and celery.
  • Buy yogurt, dried fruit, snackables like pumpkin seeds or even organic cookies in bulk, then pack them in reusable food containers (just not the kind made of clear, shatterproof polycarbonate plastic since those contain hormone disrupting bisphenol A -- the same stuff that made headlines in clear plastic baby bottles).  
  • Pass on pricey, packaging-heavy drinking boxes and buy juice in large cartons/jugs. Pour a single portion into a polycarbonate-free drink canister like Thermos' Foogo (keeping in mind that a stainless steel container of tap or home-filtered water is way healthier than a shot of sugary, nutritionally dead boxed OJ).
  • Pour last night's soups and even stews in an insulated thermos for a homemade meal on the go.
  • Don't forget to toss a cloth napkin and, if necessary, washable cutlery into your lunch box.

Keep the lead out of lunchtime
Speaking of lunch boxes, stay away from anything made of vinyl, aka PVC. Back in 2005, California's Center for Environmental Health filed a lawsuit against some big-name makers of soft PVC lunch cases (including Toys"R"Us, Warner Brothers, DC Comics and Time Warner) after testing revealed that their products contained high levels of lead.

Better to go for all-natural cloth or even nylon.You'll find a bunch of alternatives online at sites like www.reusablebags.com (think funky organic and recycled cloth bags, stainless steel containers and compartmentalized bento-box-style Laptop Lunch kits).

Move the message school-wide
Once you've got the knack of trash-free lunches, why not spread the message throughout your child's school? Consider forming a zero-waste lunch committee. If you've got a keen teacher on your side, you might even get students to kick things off with a garbage audit (think garbology 101). That means measuring how much trash goes in bins before and after lunch hour. The mini researchers can put on rubber gloves and note what kind of disposables are taking up the most room.

Raise cash for trash
Whatever you do, don't let any disposables that you and other parents might still use end up in landfill. Talk to your kid's school about saving them up and sending them packin' to be made into purses and pencil cases! Once you've collected a bunch of branded drink pouches, candy/cookie/energy bar wrappers, chip bags and yogurt cups, ship them off to TerraCycle and the upcycling company will give you 2¢ to 5¢ per package for your trouble (terracycle.net). Call it a cash-for-trash fundraiser and you'll be garbage-free in no time!

©2009 Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services

Author Bio

Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services, is a best-selling author and journalist for Canada's NOW, where she has been writing the "Ecoholic" column for five years. She lives in Toronto.


For more information please visit www.ecoholicnation.com