Start a Waste-Free Lunch Program at Your School and Commit to Packing Eco-Friendly Lunches

The first day of school is right around the corner and we’ve vowed to improve study skills, cut back on screen time and walk instead of drive to school this year. But nothing has more of an immediate impact on the environment than lunch-packing.

These days, we put a lot of energy into packing healthy foods that are good for our kids, but what about waste? What about those individually wrapped snack-packs? Let’s do the math, 2 plastic baggies per lunch, 5 times a week for approximately 35 weeks of school = a helluva lot of trash per child! And that’s just the beginning, don’t forget about juice boxes/pouches, plastic utensils, straws and napkins.

Fast facts:
• 1 American school-age child =  67 pounds of lunch waste per year
• 70 million school children = 4.6 billion pounds of waste annually

Two mothers in California decided to do something about this issue and started Here, they detail the environmental and economic effects of traditional lunches vs waste-free lunches. They also provide the tools for students, teachers, parents, administrators and custodians to work together at each school to run Zero Waste Challenge days. Many schools have run these challenges with great success. Personally, I think Reston is the perfect place to roll-out this program. We care about our old-growth trees and are committed to our community. We at Modern Reston challenge YOU to make a difference at your child’s school.

Inspired by these women, I decided to take a look at what lunchbox alternatives are out there. Is it possible to pack a zero-waste lunch?

In the past when I bought the cute lunch boxes my kids had their hearts set on, I ended up piecemealing several reusable containers together that were hard to keep track of. I needed one big container with several compartments, like a bento box. Luckily, companies are popping up all over the place with lunch kits and systems that work in harmony. Here are a few to note. I have chosen to profile stainless steel options because they are sturdier than plastic and won’t chemically break down in the dishwasher.* (They can also survive a ravaging by our Black Lab.)

Target also has a number of options that are less expensive but make sure the metal or plastic is non-toxic and/or lead-free.

PlanetBox (Facebook)
This is the top-of-the-line lunchbox system. It’s non-toxic, non-leaching, and safe from BPA, phthalates, and lead. PlanetBox comes in three different sizes and is customizable with cute magnets that decorate the compartments. The bag has an additional pocket for the PlanetBox water bottle making it easy to keep everything together in the bottomless pit that is a child’s backpack.


The price tag is hefty, averaging in at about $63 for the tray and bag. However, one parent we spoke with told us that her son has been carrying his PlanetBox since kindergarten, four years ago. She doesn’t see needing to buy another one for many more years.


In fact, PlanetBoxes come with a 5 year warranty and are considered the most durable on the market.


Photos courtesy of PlanetBox.

LunchBots (Facebook)
LunchBots are your mid-market option with mix-and-match containers and bento boxes. They have leakproof and insulated canisters as well as accessories and colorful box top covers. Their website also has packing tips and menus. Perfect for when you run out of ideas by November.


Photos courtesy of LunchBots.

EcoLunchbox (Facebook)
EcoLunchboxes, also non-toxic, lead-free and durable, are a more affordable option in the metal container world. Their 3-in-1 system ranges from $26 to $45 depending on size. They also have adorable artisan bags and eco-friendly utensils to choose from.


Photos courtesy of EcoLunchbox.

What I didn’t expect to find in my lunchbox research is the culturally fascinating lunch delivery system in Mumbai. There, home-cooked meals are picked up from individual homes in Tiffin Boxes and delivered to workers. The Tiffin Box is a stackable metal container that was created in 1811 in India. The deliverymen or DabbaWalas distribute these with amazing accuracy and are an essential part of everyday life in India.  Check out the video below:

These Indian Tiffan Boxes are available in America and can be purchased through the company Indian Tiffin in a variety of sizes. They are perfect for soups, stews, curries, etc. While a little more cumbersome for little kids, they are a great option for teenagers and adults. Indian Tiffin was kind enough to give our readers the 15% off coupon code CARD15 to be used at checkout.


Indian Tiffin also has a beautiful, hand-painted series.


Photos courtesy of Indian Tiffin.

Hopefully, you are now inspired and equipped with the tools to start a lunchbox revolution in your local school!

*Plastic doesn’t go away. Most of it never finds it’s way into a recycling center. Watch the depressing documentary Plastic Paradise and you’ll never use another plastic bag or container again!



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