[This is also published on KQED's Bay Area Bites]
Monday was the first day of school. Yes, school starts in August in our district, which always seems crazy to me as I used to start school after Labor Day when I was a kid. This means that instead of determining what my kids will eat for lunch at around noon, I am now frantically making lunches at 7:30 in the morning.
Although making a school lunch may seem like a no brainer (PB&J with a banana, anyone?), a lot has changed since my mom threw cellophane-wrapped sandwiches into my childhood Scooby Doo lunch box. For one thing, most lunch boxes are no longer made of tin, but polyester and nylon. For another, people are now starting to take note of how much trash is created during the school lunch hour.
Did you know that a typical American school kid’s lunch generates 67 pounds of trash a year? When I first heard about this statistic, I was amazed. I then did a little math and realized that a class of 20 kids produces 1,340 pounds of trash in the school year, and was horrified when I further calculated that a school with 200 kids (which is a small school), creates 133,400 pounds of school lunch trash a year!
The day-to-day issues of dealing with all this trash, combined with a desire to help students become more environmentally aware, led the administrators and parents club at my children’s school to initiate a No Trash Lunch program. What, you may ask, is a no trash lunch? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a lunch that doesn’t use anything you would throw away — no baggies, plastic sporks, juice boxes, or paper napkins. I started making no trash lunches two years ago, and although I sometimes slip and use a baggy in moments of desperation — usually when the containers aren’t clean — I’ve found that packing a no trash lunch can be just as convenient as making one that generates piles of trash.
But making a no trash lunch isn’t just about giving up baggies and paper napkins. The fad of toting a disposable water bottle has also thankfully fallen out of vogue. Kids are now being taught that those little plastic bottles of Crystal Geyser and Evian clog up land fills and are bad for the environment. The current trend is to use stainless steel water bottles. I’ve seen these available everywhere from REI and Whole Foods, to the L.L. Bean web site and our school’s parents club. Although the stainless steel bottles cost more than the plastic variety, they will last for years and are not made of plastics that could potentially leach chemicals into your child’s water. Many reusable plastic bottles are also great, but be sure to purchase those with a 1, 2, 4 or 5 on them as they are thought to be safer.
So if you’re ready to give up baggies and plastic bottles, here are some tips that might help. Once you invest in the basics, a no trash lunch can be just as fast and easy to make as one full of waste.
Making a No Trash Lunch
- Buy a reusable lunch box. I like the ones made out of Nylon and Polyester that can be washed.
- Get some sandwich and snack-sized containers. These are sold everywhere from Target and Longs, to IKEA.
- Purchase a reusable water container. I like the stainless steel ones, but these can be pricey. If you get a plastic bottle, try to purchase one that does not have the numbers 3, 6, or 7 imprinted on the bottom as these are most likely to leach chemicals. The best choices are those with the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 (although these are often more difficult to find).
- Give your child a cloth napkin instead of a paper one.
- If your child will need a fork or spoon, include a metal one that can be taken home, washed and reused. You can buy inexpensive sets of four at most drug stores.
- If your child likes warm food, purchase a reusable thermos.
If you have any other ideas for how to create a No Trash Lunch, I’d love to hear them.