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Green for life: how to pack litter-less lunches

You made a healthy lunch. (Virtuous!) Why spoil it by wrapping it in disposable (and dangerous) plastic? Instead, put your eco leanings where your mouth is

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Masterfile

Masterfile

There’s a definite spring in the step of parents everywhere as the first week of school approaches, bringing a long, hot summer to a close. But while we may have missed the school-day routine these past few months, we surely haven’t missed packing school lunches.

This school year, why not go green – and I don’t mean that three-day-old cheese sandwich at the bottom of your kid’s backpack.You’ve probably heard the buzz from the PTA: Litterless lunches are the way to go. The average school-aged child with a disposable lunch (think prepackaged, single-serving foods) generates 30 kilograms of waste a year. That means a typical grade 4 student throws away her body weight in lunch packaging.

Here are a few tricks to help lighten your lunchtime load:

Buy in bulk

Hooked on individually wrapped granola bars and yogourts? They’re costing you a bundle, and clogging landfills. Try buying lunch foods in larger quantities and sending single portions in reusable containers. Explain to your kids that by treating these containers with care, they’re being stewards of the earth. (They’ll like that impor­tant-sounding title.)

Be a woman of steel

Chemicals leaching from plastics have caused a flurry of government bans and consumer scares recently, so I try to avoid plastic wherever possible. Stainless steel, which is stable, durable and 100-percent reusable, is a great alternative. Klean Kanteen water bottles, with wide mouths for easy cleaning, are popping up everywhere, including in lunch bags.

There are also a variety of stainless-steel lunch containers, perfect for salads, cookies and other loose snack items. Make sure your child’s Thermos is stainless steel on the inside, too. You don’t want chemicals leaching from plastic into hot soup.

Wrap responsibly

My all-time favourite discovery for a greener lunch bag is the Wrap-N-Mat (Wrapnmat.com), a reusable wrap invented by a mother who was sick of burning through plastic sandwich baggies. It’s like a lined cloth napkin, with a Velcro tab to seal it. I like the one that’s made with low-density polyethylene (number 4 plastic, the one the David Suzuki Foundation says is safe to reuse). Wipe it clean at night and it’s ready to use again the next day.

Get the lead out

Now that you have your organic carrots and your bulk granola packed into chemical-free containers, how do you transport it all? Those vinyl Simpsons or Narnia lunch bags may look kid-culture cool, but on the inside they can be dangerous. Many lunch bags contain lead, so check the label. If it doesn’t say lead-free, it probably isn’t. Unbleached cotton bags are your best bet.

Websites to help you go litterless:
Wastefreelunches.org shows how a litterless lunch can save you $250 per year per child.
Lifewithoutplastics.com sells stainless-steel lunch containers.
Grassrootsstore.com is our source for reusable lunch bins, cloth bags and more.

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