School lunches can generate a lot of waste. In fact, the Recycling Council of Ontario suggests that the average student’s lunch generates a total of 30 kilograms of waste per school year, which translates to an average school generating up to 8,500 kilograms (18,700 lbs) of waste per year. Considering all the schools across Canada, that’s a mountain of trash, which is why many schools are adopting waste-free lunches and boomerang lunch programs.

A litter-free lunch means only items that can be composted or recycled can be brought to school. So no plastic wrap, no tinfoil, no zip lock bags and no packaged foods. Essentially, anything that would end up in a garbage can once lunch is finished is unacceptable. Sound impossible? We promise, it’s not. The first step is to get organized. A typical waste-free lunch requires the following items:

Reusable Lunch Containers

Available in a variety of shapes, and materials like plastic, metal, glass and bamboo, reusable lunch containers can hold just about anything your kid(s) enjoy eating. From sandwiches, to wraps, fresh fruit, cut up vegetables, baked goods and treats. These containers can be washed and used again and again, eliminating the need for plastic wrap, tinfoil and zip lock bags.

Cloth Napkins

Don’t just save them for elegant dinner parties, cloth napkins are a great addition to any packed lunch. A multi-purpose item, cloth napkins can replace plastic wrap to keep sandwiches fresh, become a handy miniature tablecloth to eat off of, as well as fulfill the task of keeping hands and mouths clean.

Reusable Forks and Spoons (AKA Sporks) 

If you don’t want to use your everyday stainless steel cutlery, buy a specific set for your child’s packed lunch. Smaller versions are available in a variety of materials and colours that are compact and take up less space in the lunch bag. You can even pick these up at the dollar store, to be cost effective.

Reusable Drink Containers

Available in a variety of formats, the reusable drink container is a must. The benefits are obvious; much like reusable containers for food, they can be rinsed out and used throughout the day, over and over again. They also significantly cut down on packaged waste.

Washable Cloth Lunch Bag

Any washable lunch container, whether it be plastic or fabric, is an essential part of the waste-free lunch.

It not only reduces the amount of excess packaging, it can also reduce food waste. With a reusable lunch container, uneaten food can be re-packed instead of thrown out, so it can be finished later in the day or disposed of in the compost bin at home.

Did You Know? 

Microwave popcorn can be made in a regular brown paper bag! No need for commercial brands that are typically individually wrapped in plastic too. Simply measure ¼ cup of kernels into a lunchbox-sized paper bag. Loosely fold just the very top of the bag over so the kernels don’t spill out. Microwave on high (at 100 percent power) until the popping slows down to about 4 seconds between each pop, then stop the microwave. Waiting longer can result in scorched or burnt popcorn.


(Photo by: Evitaochel)