3 Tips for Packing a Zero Waste Lunch

January may mark the first month of the Western calendar, but for many, the August and September months truly punctuate the New Year. Students and parents can relate: Back-to-school season is a time for new beginnings. Now is a great time to reevaluate habits, schedule and routine as they relate to making minimal impact on the environment, and one way to do that is pack a zero waste lunch.

A more sustainable meal planning routine is something to strive for year-round, but in the spirit of fresh starts, here are three simple tips you can use to eat more sustainably when on the go:

1. Buy local and BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)

With a plan, shopping for the week becomes a targeted venture, and buying local and bringing your own bag helps to cut down on a lot of the plastic bag and packaging waste that comes with big box stores and supermarkets. Think clamshells, salad boxes, and Styrofoam trays and cling wrap.

Zero waste doesn’t have to stop at roughage; your consumption of animal products can be more sustainable, as well. Local dairy farms are the spot for the freshest yogurt available, and these will often come in a plastic tub. See if the farm will take them back on your next trip. At the butcher or deli, ask for your cuts in uncoated paper, as this can be composted.

In general, knowing what you want to buy ahead of time will prepare you to bring the bags and containers you need to go plastic-free at the market.

2. Make sure packaged goods are recyclable

You can go the extra mile to fill your soda from the tap, and pack up your own nibbles and snacks in a container, but the fact is that many potential lunch companions come pre-packaged. Inventions of convenience, canned soda, bottled drinks, snack bags and pouches, and other common food and beverage items make an easy add-on when the going gets busy, as it so often does.

When choosing packaged goods for your zero waste lunch, make sure the packaging is recyclable. Aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles, and paper bags are widely accepted curbside, and conscious brands like Entenmann’s Little Bites have created a free, consumer recycling solution for its typically unrecyclable flexible plastic mini muffin pouches.

3. Use reusable cutlery, containers, and lunchbox

Rolling up reusable cutlery (if you don’t have an old set to spare, you may be able to find some for nearly nothing from thrift shops, yard sales or other reselling platforms) in a cloth napkin (you can make your own out leftover fabric or t-shirt scraps by finishing the edges with a sewing machine) is an automatic win for cutting down on single-use plastics.

Glass jars in different sizes are awesome to have on hand for packing snacks, salads, soups, smoothies, yogurt parfaits or overnight oats for lunch, as well as for storing dry goods and buying from bulk in the grocery store. For little ones, stainless steel tins or plastic containers work well, too.

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