Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Packing a greener lunch

When my son was in kindergarten he asked why we didn’t send packaged stuff in his lunch. He was intrigued by the novelty of other kid’s lunch items. And what child wouldn’t be? (That’s why food companies make those mini packages.) But the environmental impact of that extra packaging is anything but small, which is reason enough to consider ways to reduce the amount of garbage generated by your lunch.

Each year we come across new (but hardly revolutionary) ways to help make our children’s lunches easier on the environment. A few years ago we stopped buying individually packaged yogurt and instead serve up portions from our big tub. We replaced drink boxes with refillable bottles. When we started reading about chemicals leaching from plastics we bought the children stainless-steel water bottles. And this year we’re working on giving up plastic sandwich bags in favor of reusable containers and little fabric snack bags. (I say “we” but it’s really my husband, since he’s in charge of lunches in our house.)

Below is a list of ideas for packing eco-friendly lunches, for you and your children:

· Reduce (or eliminate) prepackaged foods. Pack in reusable containers your own cheese and crackers, yogurt, juice, water, fruit, vegetables.
· Pack stainless-steel spoons and forks. I dislike eating with plastic utensils so always assumed that my children would too. And plastic utensils can’t be recycled.
· Consider using stainless steel water bottles. They’re so easy to find now, are durable and easy to keep clean.
· Remember any plastics that you use should have the numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5 on them (inside the recycling symbol). These are the food-safe numbers. Items marked with these numbers are also recyclable. Don’t put food items in any containers marked with the number seven. That’s the plastic that contains Bisphenol A, the hormone disruptor that has been banned from use in baby bottles.
· Don’t heat food in plastic containers, no matter what number is stamped on it. Chemical leaching is intensified when the plastic is heated.
· If you do use plastic sandwich bags ask your child to bring them home. They can be rinsed and reused. As soon as they start to show wear they can be recycled with soft plastics. Or better yet, use plastic containers and fabric snack bags instead of plastic bags.
· Beam Reusable Bags, a local company, offers washable fabric snack bags that come in handy packs of six. They’re inexpensive ($7.50 for 6). Visit
· If your child’s school isn’t set up for composting make sure that compostables (banana peals, bread crusts) stay in the lunch bag to be composted at home. If you want to get composting going at your school The Fundy Solid Waste Commission has a terrific program specifically for schools. If you want to start composting at work they have a start-up program for businesses too.
Packing a greener lunch doesn’t have to be complicated. Making just a few changes will make your lunch a little healthier -- for you and for the planet.

This article was previously published in KV Style (

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