A few years ago, about 150 days into the 180 days of packing school snacks and lunches, the tedium got to me and I started thinking about all that plastic. Plastic sandwich bags, plastic snack bags, plastic wrap, plastic water bottles, plastic-coated juice boxes. Thrown away. Everyday. By every child in the school, the city, the state, the country. The image of all that plastic sitting in landfills unchanged for thousands of years made me crazy. So crazy, I made a declaration (to myself): No more disposable plastic in the lunchbox!
I went cold turkey and it was difficult at first. The pretzel sticks that fit so perfectly in little plastic snack bags looked horribly out of place in round Gladware containers, but I worked through it, and in time, I got used to it. I filled the tedious minutes packing lunch reminding myself of the redeeming value of reducing the number of petro-chemical-leaching plastic bags from the landfill. And it helped.
I went seeking support for my new-found abstinence and discovered I wasn’t alone. Informative sites like wastefreelunch.com provide you with facts to fortify you in weak moments. Did you know that elementary school children throw away approximately 67 pounds of lunch trash each year? I found that hard to believe, but I weighed the trash at my daughter’s school this past year and guess what? The math on their daily trash total worked out to 65 pounds a school year, per student. Now, when I read that buying single-serving size snacks and drinks and using disposable packaging costs about $246.60 more per child each school year, I believe it.
I’ve been on the plastic ban-wagon for a few years now and a lot has changed since my early Gladware days. Gladware still works like a charm, but now there are many eco-chic, kid-acceptable ways to pack a PB&J. Here are some to consider:
These convenient wraps are like little diapers for your sandwiches: plastic on one side; printed cloth on the other. I find the plastic side of the Wrap-n-mat easy to clean, rinse and dry. They are phthalate, lead and BPA free and meet the FDA’s guidelines for food contact. I alternated between 2 patterns this year (skis and basketballs – there are 55 others) and they held up fabulously. The manufacturer also makes snack pouches that open up flat to clean and come in 11 designs. These can be found on reusablebags.com, amazon.com, and wrap-n-mat.com.
Close in concept to the wrap in mat are Lunch Skins, eco-chic resealable, reusable, dishwasher-safe lunch bags that resemble baggies. According to the manufacturer’s web site “these reusable, colorful cloth pouches are made from a high quality, moisture-proof German fabric used worldwide in the food industry. These bags are food safe, extremely durable, grease-proof and can even be thrown in the dishwasher.” For a personal account, read more @Fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com. For product information, go to 3greenmoms.com.
The garbage-free lunchbox by Lunchopolis comes in 3 bright and fun colors. It includes a lead-fee, insulated lunchbox, four brightly tinted containers and a drinking bottle. The containers are phthalate, lead and BPA free; they are dishwasher safe and airtight. The lunchbox is washing machine safe. This is a great all in one option.
The Laptop Lunchbox
If your child prefers a different style lunch box, this bento-box style lunch case will fit into most standard lunchboxes (my daughter’s LL Bean lunch box held it with enough room on top for a plastic ice pack and a Sigg bottle). This durable box includes 4 containers and a small closed container for condiments (something for the kids who have to put ketchup on everything). The containers are lead, phthalate and BPA free and are dishwasher-safe. My daughter loved using it this past year and reported that other kids thought it was “cool”. The lunchbox comes with a Laptop Lunch User’s Guide, a 90 page resource filled with health and nutrition information and importantly, kid-friendly lunch ideas and recipes to keep even picky eaters happy. Click here for more information or to purchase your Laptop Lunchbox.
This summer, I discovered Bazura bags, colorful, plastic-lined lunch boxes made by a women’s cooperative in the Philippines from used and sanitized juice boxes. The bright orange medium sac was a hit with the kids and it’s slightly larger size held a days worth of camp snacks and lunch along with a large water bottle and ice pack. Purchasing these bags supports the entrepreneurial women who are shareholders in the cooperative. They work for themselves, make each bag by hand and have a positive impact on their community: Local school children collect the used juice containers and sell them to the cooperative, earning money and keeping these non-biodegradables out of the landfills, fields and streets of the Philippines. This is a feel good purchase on many levels. Check them out @ reusablebags.com
Waste Free Lunch Kit
In 3 attractive styles: plain canvas, butterflies or caterpillars (pictured above), this cotton sack, made from recycled materials includes a cloth napkin, 304 food-grade stainless steel beverage bottle, 1 food kozy (similar to the wrap-n-mat) and two 304 food-grade stainless steel food containers with BPA-free lids. The Lunch Sack is 7" W x 10.5" T x 4.5". The website includes useful items like a non-toxic ice pack with a sweat-free cover, stainless steel bottles with optional sport lids and insulated sacks made from recycled plastic bottles. Read more @ kidskonserve.com.
If you’re considering kicking the plastic and single-serving size habits, I’m here to tell you it’s possible, it feels good and you won’t be alone. If you need more convincing or you just want more information, the following sites will not disappoint: