Lunch Box

How to pack a waste-free lunch

September 24, 2018

By Laine Roberts, Recycling Education Specialist, City of Greensboro


Whether you’re a grab-and-goer, brown-bagger, or a meal-prepper, you can decrease lunch waste with the following tips.

Use a reusable lunch box. It doesn't have to be fancy, a reusable or insulated reusable grocery bag works just fine.

Pour beverages into reusable containers. You can find durable, reusable beverage bottles for under $20. The cost savings between single-serve drinks and refilling a reusable bottle might not seem significant, but you can recoup the cost of that reusable bottle in just one month! If you do buy single-use drinks, try to avoid materials like drink pouches that must be landfilled. And don’t forget to invest in a thermos for hot beverages. It can double as a tea mug or a bowl for soup. I've made a promise to myself to only treat myself to coffee if I have my reusable cup with me. Once I drink it, I rinse and reuse the rest of the day.

Avoid single-serve and heavily packaged items. Refill small containers from larger ones. Buy bulk nuts or dried fruit to make trail mix in the portion size you want! Buy ingredients for several lunches at once. You'll use less packaging buying larger quantities of basic ingredients than buying prepared meals or snacks.

Use reusable food containers not zip top bags or plastic wrap. The average person uses 500 zip top bags a year. Try reusable sandwich bags or bee’s wax paper for snacks. For something leak proof, like yogurt, try a reusable screw top plastic container or a glass jar.

Pack a REAL fork, knife, and spoon! Visit thrift stores so you don’t break up your set at home. If I’m given a plastic utensil, I wash and reuse it until it breaks.

Pack leftovers into readymade meals. When packing up leftovers, save time by putting them in your lunchbox for the next day. Keep a reusable to-go container in your car to pack leftovers in from a dinner out. Voila, lunch is ready!

Pack fabric napkins or bandannas instead of paper napkins. Replace your dirty napkin with a clean one as you unpack your lunch. Reuse them if you can, then throw them in the laundry.

Buy or grow naturally packaged items. Some foods, like oranges and bananas, come in their own packaging, Why smother them in plastic?

Buy local or grow your own. Choose food that hasn't traveled far in order to reduce packaging and fuel cost.