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Waste-Free Lunches: Right for the Planet. Right for our Kids

By Amy Hemmert (

According to the New York State Department of Conservation, a child taking a disposable lunch to school will create an average of 67 pounds of trash per school year—a pretty heavy load for schools to haul off to the landfill. LaptopLunches1

In an effort to address this growing problem, teachers, parents, administrators, and students across the nation are working together to implement waste-free lunch programs. And here’s what they recommend:

Make it a habit. It’s easy once you make waste-free lunches part of your daily routine.

  • PACK FOOD IN REUSABLE CONTAINERS—Avoid plastic bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and prepackaged foods whenever possible.
  • USE A REFILLABLE DRINK BOTTLE instead of disposables
  • USE A CLOTH NAPKIN instead of paper
  • PACK REUSABLE UTENSILS instead of disposables

Packing a waste-free lunch may take a bit more time and creativity but, given the environmental benefits, it’s well worth the effort. Here are some tips for making it work:

  • Pack lunches the night before and store them in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Maximize leftovers. Prepare extra servings at dinnertime for the next day’s lunches. Pack the leftovers in lunchboxes in the evening when you’re doing your regular dinner clean up.
  • Keep fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutritious foods on hand.
  • Keep nuts and dried fruit on hand for emergencies.
  • Buy from bulk bins to reduce your costs.
  • Consider purchasing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share or shop at the farmers’ market.
  • Write your name on all your containers before your kids leave the house.

Talk to students, parents, and teachers about waste-free lunches. Post signs in the lunch area and send informative notes home to families. Get students, parents, teachers, and administrators involved. If possible, schedule a field trip to the landfill or recycling facility so students can see where their trash ends up.

Perform a trash audit to find out what’s in your trash. Is your trash made up of mostly food waste or packaging waste? Does it contain compostables or recyclables? If so, how can these be diverted? Is the bulk of the trash coming from home or from the school lunch program? What changes will help reduce waste?

Start a waste-free lunch program at your school. For details, visit

Save money with waste-free lunches. Packing a waste-free lunch not only reduces landfill waste, but it costs less too. A prepackaged lunch costs about $4.02 a day or $723.60 per school year compared to $2.65 a day ($477.00 per school year) for a waste-free lunch—a difference of $246.60 per person per year.

Help your school save money. Waste-free lunch programs help schools reduce waste-hauling fees by eliminating landfill-bound trash. The savings can be spent in the classroom, landfills last longer, and children learn the importance of protecting the planet – three good reasons to pack a waste-free lunch every day!

For more information on waste-free lunches, to find out what others are doing, or to share your own waste-free lunch story, visit

Amy Hemmert is the co-founder of Obentec, Inc.,


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