Green Your Lunch

I started back at college this month, and as decades of poor college kids before me, I need to pack a lunch – usually leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Packing a lunch has made me more aware of the disposable and reusable products we use in our lunch bags. Plastic wrap and plastic bags are lunchroom staples, but what are the best alternatives to those disposable, oil-based products?

Aluminium foil: Foil has a higher resource cost than other options on this list. The majority of aluminum foil ends up in landfills, so if you pack your lunch using it, at least toss it in a blue bin when you’re done. Better yet, rinse it off (or throw it in the dishwasher!), fold it up, and reuse it a few times before recycling.

Wax paper: Before the rise of plastic wrap, wax paper was a common way to wrap up sandwiches. You can wipe the paper clean and reuse it several times over, but many brands of wax paper use paraffin wax, which is an oil by-product. Paper coated with natural waxes like soybean are a greener option.

I pack tacos for lunch fairly often, and I love to wrap my tortillas in wax paper. At lunchtime, the paper doubles as a surface to assemble and eat on.

Cloth sandwich bags: Zippered cloth bags are best alternative for people hung up on plastic sandwich bags. They are perfect for sandwiches, crackers, and other dry goods. Iron-on vinyl lining make them easy to clean with a damp cloth. I wrote a whole blog post about them here.

Plastic/glass containers: Containers are the only way to pack a lunch destined for the microwave. But be warned that many container brands like Tupperware have special coating that make them unrecyclable. Glass containers with plastic lids do the same job, but reduce the amount of plastic.

Mason jars: If you or anyone in your family has done some food canning in the past, used mason jars are great for packing thin foods like pickles and carrots, as well as diced food that can pack down, like diced fruit. They screw tightly shut, so you can also trust them for packing beverages and other liquids like salad dressing, milk (for cereal), or soup.

Whatever alternative you choose, you’ll take more pride in a lunch that has zero-waste. See how much plastic waste you’ll reduce in a month, and be amazed.

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