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Reduce Waste with Bag Lunches – Guest Post

Guest post by Elizabeth Hudgens

School is soon beginning, so let’s do some math!

I have a family with three children who each pack their lunches four days per week. The average lunch contains a sandwich, a juice box, an applesauce in either a pouch or plastic cup, a spoon, a salty snack, and an additional snack for during the school day. If the sandwich and two snacks are packed in plastic baggies, what number of baggies does this family use during the 180 or so days of the school year? Extra credit: how many additional, disposable items do they throw away during that same time? (And don’t even get me started about the days when a forgetful child has to use a plastic grocery bag because he or she forgot the lunchbox at school!)

Plastic baggies used in one school year: ~1,296

Extra Credit–
Juice boxes (and other single-use items) in one school year: ~432 per type

Our family started talking about this as a hypothetical math question, but we were shocked by the answer. That is a lot of plastic we are sending to the landfill, and we’re just one family! What if everybody did that?

The kids, having learned about the environment all of their lives, and I were immediately stirred to action and made it our mission to reduce lunchtime waste. We decided to start fairly simple and affordable; however, even these little actions add up to a huge change! Here are our five tips for saving the world–one lunchbox at a time.

1. Replace the juice box with a water bottle.

With just a little bit of searching, we were able to find 9 oz. stainless steel water bottles. They’re small enough to go inside their lunchbox or its side pocket. Plus, it was an extra opportunity to get them drinking water (though it’s also a fairly reasonable amount of juice).

2. Use some sort of reusable food storage.

We chose to go with a variation of a bento box. These fit perfectly into their existing lunchboxes with room to spare for their water bottles! Plus, the ones we settled on were double deckers with room for a sandwich on the bottom and two side dishes on top. There were so many options out there–including versions that, for example, function as a whole lunchbox or were made from steel or glass.

3. Find or make a reusable snack bag.

Once we started looking, we found reusable snack bags everywhere! There are fabric ones, silicone ones, hefty plastic ones, and even paper covered in beeswax. If you’re feeling really frisky, there are patterns all over the internet for both utilitarian and extraordinarily cute snack bags.  

4. Pack fresh, unprocessed foods.

When we swapped out the applesauce for a sliced fruit, we immediately reduced the amount of packaging in the lunchbox! Bonus: there are no added sugars to fresh fruits and veggies.

5. Swap out one-time use plastic utensils.

Whether you opt for super cute bamboo utensils, a camping spork device, or even just your regular silverware, reusable utensils mean less plastic and less waste going into the landfill.

These ideas are all super easy swaps and just barely scratching the surface of what’s possible! But even these little changes lead to big results. Our family challenges your family to join us in reducing waste–in lunchboxes and in life–this year. We want to hear if you try any of these ideas, or what brilliant hacks you’ve got for us.

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Hudgens – Elizabeth is an educator and mom in Colorado Springs. Her three children have attended Catamount Institute Summer Camps. She enjoys hiking, organizing, and finding new ways to be an environmental steward.

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