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The Decline of the Plastic Bag: Waste-Free School Lunches

The Decline of the Plastic Bag: Waste-Free School Lunches


Someday in the not-so-distant future, children could be asking their parents about the meaning of the phrase “brown-bagging it.” In the US, schools are increasingly requesting, if not requiring, students to use eco-friendly, reusable lunch containers rather than bringing pb&j in plastic bags and drinks in single-unit packaging. As the New York Times notes, schools are adopting eco-friendly policies with enthusiasm, and not only to teach students about going green:

Many of the schools are pushing waste-free lunches, where everything must be either compostable or reusable, in an effort to reduce garbage and the cost of hauling it away. Others are requiring that students bring reusable gear because even though the upfront cost is higher, it tends to be cheaper over the course of the year.

“We try to be sensitive to keeping costs down for families,” said Emily Hyde, assistant headmaster of Archway Classical Academy at Veritas, a new charter school in Phoenix that requires a reusable water bottle and lunch box for each student. “It seemed like the economical choice.”

Foregoing the Ziploc bags and the Capri Suns isn’t easy for many parents. If you are (as I have found myself, regrettably, doing) assembling lunch boxes at 7:35 am on a school morning, ready-to-pack juice boxes and plastic bags are a timesaver. (If not a lifesaver — my son is a very picky eater and refuses all the offerings in the school cafeteria; he always brings his snack and lunch in two reusable neoprene containers.) Using disposables like plastic bags to pack your child’s lunch means that, aside from washing out the lunch box, there’s little clean-up as everything gets tossed. In contrast, packing your child’s lunch in reusable containers means, at the end of the day, there’s a pile of sticky plastic to scrub.

Granted, washing plastic containers is not a huge chore, though it can feel like one at the end of a working mother’s long day. My son doesn’t start school till after Labor Day, but reading about “waste-free lunch” policies has got me thinking about how to cut down on the disposables. He already takes fruit and a few other items in plastic containers and I’m glad to look into alternatives to all the Ziplocs. Certainly the idea of helping schools generate less garbage from piles of discarded plastic bags and packaging is worthwhile and really doesn’t take too much effort.

It seems that we may be slowly breaking ourselves from the habit of plastic bags. The New York Times notes that sales of paper bags and sandwich bags are on the decline. Between August 2010 and August 2011, sales of plastic sandwich bags declined by 3.17 percent. Sales of paper bags fell by 13.19 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Maybe the message to go green and reduce waste is really taking hold, one lunchbox at a time. Should more schools institute waste-free lunch policies?


Related Care2 Coverage

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6:18AM PST on Dec 13, 2011

I used to supervise children at lunchtime. My opion: Some children bring veggies in plastic containers. Ethnic children bring food which to me is strange and exotic. The lower income children bring stuff like bags of chips and pop.. One lower income mother dropped by one day and I tried to gently and politely mention that her son's lunch was different from many of the other other children with their carrot sticks, etc. But she says that her boy likes chips and pop, so what can you do???? I'm almost 67 so I retired, that's what I did. I retired.

11:46AM PST on Nov 13, 2011

What a great idea to not only get extra waste out of school lunches but it is also teaching children to be aware of their surroundings and what is going in to the environment they depend on, and is hopefully instilling good values that will help them be good adult citizens.

8:01PM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

As much as I usually want the Federal government out of local politics I am changing my mind with regards to our school systems. This is a great idea.

6:58PM PDT on Sep 25, 2011


10:08PM PDT on Sep 14, 2011

What a super idea. Spread the word.

9:23PM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

YAY! I hope it catches on everywhere!

1:41PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

Great idea!

9:06AM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

I think it's a brilliant idea! if I had a child I woulc be doing that anyway, whether the school inforced it or not. but some parents need that push I'm sure.

1:09PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

I like this idea!! If you're a working mom and too busy to wash the lunch box and containers have the kids do their own. Teaches them responsibility. It would only take each child a few minutes. Make it a rule, wash your dishes before you can go out to play or watch tv.

9:31AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Good idea.

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