If you ever do school drop off or pick up, you may have noticed a theme to the rubbish that appears around school gates – lots of single-use plastic! Plastic snack bar wrappings, plastic straws, lolly wrappers, chip packets, yoghurt tubs… you get the theme…
School (and work) lunches are usually dominated by convenience foods that are individually packaged in plastic and can be popped into a lunch box quickly and easily as you head out the door but this usually results in lots of plastic that is never recycled and ends up in landfill (best case scenario) or on the street and into drains/waterways.
Scary statistic time! Research has shown, on average, a child who has a disposable lunch generates three pieces of rubbish per day, which equals about 30kg of waste per child per year. That’s a wheelie bin of waste per child!
So what can you do to make your lunch box plastic-free? Can you still have tasty, healthy snacks without the packaging?
Cutting plastic-wrapped snacks fro your lunch box helps in a number of ways:
It’s healthier! Pre-packaged snacks are usually quite high in sugar and fat so switching to fresh food is healthier.
It’s cheaper! Buying in bulk and/or baking at home is cheaper than buying pre-prepared.
Reduces landfill and energy! Most schools don’t have soft plastics recycling set up so all those wrappers head to landfill and disposing of rubbish and recycling both use a lot of energy.
A cleaner planet! You or your child won’t be contributing more rubbish to the world.
Want to try cutting out or reducing the plastic in your lunchbox?
Check out my top tips for a plastic-free lunch box without any hassle:
Now my motto is always use what you have so dig everything out of the back of that kitchen cupboard and see if you have everything you need for a waste-free lunch box set up. Think reusable! And if you have to buy, go for sturdy and durable so you will only be buying once.
Some ideas for you:
- A large lunch box or insulated lunch bag that you can place smaller containers into to keep things separated.
- A compartmentalised lunch box like these bento boxes.
- A tiffin box where you have layers for different parts of your lunch (these are great if you like packing rice separately to sauce).
- Beeswax wraps or reusable sandwich bags.
- Reusable drink bottle (glass or stainless steel to avoid that plasticky smell and nasties like BPA).
My preference is containers inside a lunch box as they are so easy to clean for repacking the next day and there is no leakage between compartments, but depending on what kind of lunches you prepare, you may prefer one of the other options above.
What to put inside?
Things to try:
Water in a reusable bottle – skip any kind of packaged drink and go for trusty water – it’s much healthier than anything in plastic.
Bake snacks in batches and freeze – there are loads of quick and easy snacks you can make/bake at home and if you freeze a few varieties you’ll always have something different in the snack rotation.
Loose fruit and veg – the amazing thing about fruit and vegetables is that they have their own packaging – skin! Buy these loose and then give them a good wash before packing. Berries can go into little containers or compartments.
Leftovers – I just love it when I have leftovers to pack for lunch the next day because I don’t have to make anything. Using up leftovers is an awesome way to reduce your food waste and cut out any pre-packaged foods.
Meat-free/plant-based meals – if you aren’t vegetarian, try and have a few lunches each week that are plant-heavy to further reduce your carbon footprint.
Shop for local fruit/veg – if you are in a position to buy local produce, do it! You’ll get fresh, tasty food and will reduce your footprint again as it cuts out all the energy/carbon used when food is transported across the country.
Shop at stores where you can fill your own container – if you have access to a bulk store where you can fill your own container with pantry staples and snacks, this is a fantastic way to cut out plastic. Transfer to smaller containers or your lunchbox compartments.
Buy in bulk and fill a smaller container – if you are buying in plastic packaging, buy the bulk sizes to reduce the amount of packaging you take home. One big packet of chips uses far less plastic than a big packet filled with 10 little packets.
Reusable utensils – if you don’t want to risk using your good set, grab some from the op shop/thrift store to make up a mini set to carry around for lunch.
Napkin – if you find yourself reaching for tissues or paper napkins over lunch, grab some cloth napkins from the second hand store or whip some up from some old flannel pyjamas at home.
Label everything – now that you have invested in bits and pieces for yourself or your kids, stick a label on each item to make sure they come home again.
Things to avoid:
Juice boxes – these are a plasticky nightmare! They have the plastic straw that won’t get recycled and that little bit of plastic holding the straw on which usually flies away in the wind or out of the rubbish bin. And the box is probably destined for the landfill bin. Stick with water in a reusable bottle.
Cling film/plastic sandwich bags – unless you are going to bring these home and send them to your local soft plastics recycling bin, they are going to end up in landfill. Best to skip them altogether and try a reusable option.
Plastic disposable cutlery – this type of plastic can’t be recycled so they are a definite no unless you already have some at home that you could use repeatedly as a part of your lunch kit.
Paper napkins – soiled paper napkins can’t be recycled due to the oil and bacteria on them and the paper they are made from isn’t a high enough grade to recycle. The same goes for kitchen paper towel.
Plastic-wrapped lunch box snacks – think muesli bars, roll ups, biscuits, squeezy yoghurts, individually-wrapped snack packs, chips, chocolate etc. These convenience foods are the main culprits that we are trying to avoid. If you want to buy some of these kind of treats, buy in bulk and transfer to smaller containers but skip the individually-wrapped ‘fun packs’.
Plastic-wrapped fruit and veg targeted at kids – these really get my goat! Supermarkets take perfectly good fruit and veg and wrap them in plastic bundles to sell as lunchbox snacks. Um… no thanks. Just buy the plastic-free fruit and veg.
So there you have it. Try these ideas to cut out or reduce plastic from the lunchboxes packed in your home and enjoy the plastic-free difference!