Zero Waste School Lunches: It’s Possible!

Ah, it isn’t easy being green– BUT, it isn’t as hard as you think either!

Back when we were still living in Portland, Oregon, my daughter attended a small private school. At that time, her Kindergarten teacher stated her classroom goals to the parents, one of which was to have an environmentally-friendly classroom. This included zero-waste lunches. It took a little adjustment, but I have to say, we actually did a pretty good job with making that happen and it wasn’t as difficult as it may sound. You can do it too. I promise.

The last time I looked up the stats, on average, each child in the U.S. creates up to 67 pounds of waste each school year. This is just calculated from what gets thrown away from their lunches. Collectively, that becomes almost 20,000 pounds of trash per elementary school annually. Shocking, right? I think it is pretty clear that too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food and much of the packaging is not biodegradable. So, are you with me now? Ready to give zero waste lunches a try? No harm in trying, even if you are not 100% zero waste all the time, every bit counts and gets us closer to our collective goal of less waste in our environment.

This is how we got started. Everyday, my daughter was sent to school with:

  • A reusable lunch box
  • Real metal cutlery
  • A few cloth napkins
  • Reusable containers in which to store lunch and snacks
  • Reusable ice pack to keep everything fresh if necessary
  • Reusable water bottle

Additionally, I asked my daughter not to throw away what she couldn’t finish for lunch. She would eat her lunch leftovers as her after school snack along with whatever else she felt like having. If she didn’t want what was leftover from her lunch, I composted the remnants and adjusted the quantity I packed for her the next time. After a while, we more or less were humming along in our zero waste packed lunch routine.

The biggest challenge came from those kid-pleasing, conveniently sized snack packs. They make life simpler for the caregiver in charge of packing the lunches, no arguments there. Just grab a little snack sized bag of chips or applesauce or whatever and BAM, once less task for the caregiver to do. BUT, when you look at the stats again, and you think about the long term effect of these little bags hanging around in our environment for generations and the fact that microplastics have been found in our food streams and water sources across the country…that convenience comes with a pretty heavy price.

There are many homemade options for healthy snacks, and many many websites dedicated to giving you ideas and recipes for those packed lunches. BUT, if your family just can’t pass up those crunchy chips, then consider getting a large bag and using a small reusable container to portion out the snacks. One bag to recycle is a lot better than many many small bags being thrown away by the kids who might mean well to recycle but aren’t necessarily paying close attention when they are cleaning up after themselves during lunch. Another benefit to buying the bigger bag and doling out the snack portions over the course of the week is– it is cheaper!

Yup, there are so many benefits to zero waste lunches, it is hard to find a logical argument to not do it. Ready, set, GO! Be green.

For more information on zero waste lunches go to




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