Monday, September 27, 2010

L is for LUNCH

Stomachs gurgle, eyes turn to look up at the clock...then the bell rings!  Yeah, time for lunch and RECESS!!!

Over 76.6 million children look forward to lunch and recess.  It's when they get to chat with friends, refuel with lunch, and get some fresh air and exercise.  These children consume homemade lunches and cafeteria food, and when they are done, they produce an astounding amount of lunch related trash.  On average, school-aged children eating disposable lunches generate about 67 pounds of waste per year.  For an average sized elemenatary school that translates to about 18,000 pounds or 9 tons of lunch waste that ends up in the landfill.

So what ends up in the 9 tons of trash at an average school?  Just think about what you send you children in their lunch, or what they eat in the school lunch they buy, and then consider what they don't eat and what goes in the trash...

Paperbags, plastic ziplocks, packaging from chip bags, cookies, cheese sticks, and yogurts, juice boxes, milk cartons, banana peels, apple cores, peach pits, and lots and lots of uneaten food is thrown out.  If you saw the amount of food that goes into the trash your stomach would turn.  I've seen the food wasted at snack time and at lunch time...and I can hear my parent's voices in my head, "that food could feed many starving people, don't waste food!"  I'm also saddened by the amount of trash that could be recycled but is not.

It's estimated that 380 billion plastic bags (about 1,200 plastic bags per person/per year), and about 2.7 billion juice boxes are thrown away each year. (Earthworks Group, 2009)  When I read the statistics about plastic bags I quickly calculated that my family would use on average 7,200 plastic bags made from non-renewable petroleum products per year.  YIKES!  So over the course of the last year, I've switched the family over to using reusable sandwich and snack bags.  Via a school fundraiser, I bought wrap-n-mat which I like because it provides a clean surface for the sandwiches to set on instead of the germy lunchtable.  Then I discovered, and   I bought a few of each brand and was hooked on them!  They are easy to clean, and can be reused over and over, and are made of food-safe materials.  We also use small glad plastic containers instead of plastic bags for muffins, and other things that stand up better in a rigid container (and to appease the pickiest of all..the teenagers in the family who are not easily swayed by my eco-conscious reasoning...they just find it hard to be "cool" using my awesome eco-snack and sandwich bags).  I must comment that the kids, hubby, and I have had many positive comments about our fun, colorful reusable bags, and we are often asked for info about the bags, which we readily share.  Recently my sister sent us some new bags called Lunchskins  and those have been a nice addition to our collection as well.

To transport our lunches, we've never used paper lunch bags (except on field trips when we can't stow the reusable items).  Instead we have a variety of lunch "boxes".  We have pretty, stylish Vera Bradley lunchbags  for my fashionistas, LLBean lunch boxes, and Built BYO lunch bags available at Target, Kohls, etc. 

So it really couldn't be easier to bring a waste-free lunch...with sturdy lunch bags from LL Bean, or pretty choices from Vera Bradley, taking your lunch can even be a fashion statement!  There are many waste-free, accessories such as reusable stainless steel or aluminum water bottles that can be used to keep hydrated throughout the day, reusable, non-plastic snack and sandwich bags, and cloth napkins.  Instead of plastic utensils, encourage your family to take regular silverware and return it.  With all the various reusable items, there are so many options for decreasing our waste, and the costs associated with it.

As for food waste, much of it could be composted, and recycled into "brown gold" by the humblest of decomposers, the Earth worm.  Greening of school lunches could easily be integrated into the school curriculum.  Setting goals to reduce waste, bring waste-free lunches, sorting out recyclables, composting, graphing waste reduction and disposal savings could all be integrated into science, math, and even writing curriculum.  I wholeheartedly believe that providing children with opportunities to learn about positive environmental habits will lead to lifelong attitudes about sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

The new 50 Simple Things Kids Can do to save the Earth, Earthworks Group, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, Kansas City, 2009

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