How To Pack A Zero Waste Lunch Box

By: Lauren Ramakrishna

When you pack your child’s school lunch, you probably think a lot about the best choices for their health, but what about the health of the planet? Single-use plastic bags and disposable wrappers are contributing to non-compostable trash that’s harming Earth. What’s more: while the United States has just 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans contribute more than 30% of the total waste.

Why not make a small difference and aim to pack a zero waste lunch for your kids? Zero waste means everything in their lunch box or bag will get eaten or reused, so nothing goes in the trash—or harms the planet. Even better, it’s a great way to start teaching your kids about protecting the planet—and it’s easier to pull off than you might think. Check out a few tips and products to get you started.

Fill up a Bento box.

Bento boxes are basically Japanese lunch boxes. They’re modular reusable containers used in Japan to contain components of a full meal. There are tons of Bento-style boxes on the market that’ll work for older kids’ lunchtime eats. Try a sectioned stainless steel bento box, which you can fill and slide into a traditional reusable lunch box.

Ditch the paper bag.

A recyclable paper bag is certainly a preferable alternative to a styrofoam container or a disposable plastic bag, but chances are it’s going to end up in the trash can—and thus, the landfill—when lunch is over. Swap it out for a reusable canvas bag that you can use again and again. An eco-friendly, sweat-proof ice pack will keep contents cool without drowning the bag.

When you must wrap, avoid plastic.

Humans ingest roughly 70,000 pieces of microplastics each year. Discarded plastics can make their way into our oceans, our food supply, and even the air. All the more reason to cut them out of our daily lives when possible, right?

Instead of sealing a sandwich and snacks in individual throw-away plastic bags, try reusable, food-safe silicone storage bags or fabric bags. If you want to wrap up your food, skip the plastic wrap and opt for reusable beeswax wrap instead.

Drink from reusable containers.

Your kid will probably enjoy a refreshingly cold drink from an insulated stainless-steel drink container just as much as a plastic bottle. If your kids love the feel and look of juice boxes, there’s a way to go zero-waste (and control how much juice they get to drink): these refillable Drink in the Box containers are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe.

If your child decides to buy a drink in the cafeteria, ask her to skip the disposable plastic straw. Instead, stash an alternative make—like paper, bamboo, or silicone straws—in her lunch box or backpack.

Prepare snacks from bulk portions.

You’re at the grocery store, and you see a large container of individually-wrapped crackers that look perfect for stashing in a lunch box. But that package is full of waste material, including the outside container and individual wrappers.

Set aside one day a week when you prep food to put in your student’s lunch box. You can make homemade granola bars (and store them in your new silicone bags), cut up fresh fruit and vegetables, or buy yogurt in bulk and portion it into smaller, reusable containers.