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DOING LUNCH?
MAKE IT WASTE-FREE!

Busy parents are constantly finding ways to save time, especially when it comes to making school lunches. With the right ingredients, a skilled parent can create a school lunch in just three easy steps: Open lunchbox. Fill lunchbox with an assortment of prepackaged foods-a single-serve yogurt, a cereal bar, a sandwich, a bag of chips, a bag of carrots, a paper napkin, a plastic spoon, and a juice pouch. Close lunchbox and, voila, lunch is served.

But what happens to all the packaging once these lunches have been consumed? According to the New York State Department of Conservation, a child taking a disposable lunch to school will create an average of 67 pounds of trash per school year-a tremendous load for our financially-strapped schools to haul off to the nation's landfills.

The typical school lunch, in fact, contains far more packaging than at any time in the past, and will remain so, as long as we continue to rely so heavily on prepackaged lunch items and disposable wrappings like baggies, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap.

But packaging isn't the only culprit. Trash audits at schools across North America confirm that both packaging and food waste contribute significantly to the landfill-bound waste stream. Because prepackaged foods cannot be resealed, it's impossible to eat or drink just a little and save the rest for later. "During our first trash audit, we found a large number of unopened and nearly full single serve items like cheese sticks, yogurts, chips, and juice boxes, pouches and cans," says Laura Everett, Waste Reduction Task Force volunteer at Gateway School in Santa Cruz, CA. "The students can't wrap the food back up, so they toss it into the trash instead."

In an effort to address this growing problem, teachers, parents, administrators, and students are working together to reduce lunch waste. These waste-free lunch programs-also known as no-waste lunch programs, litterless lunch programs, and trash-free lunch programs-aim to provide families and schools with alternatives to disposable lunches.

Here's what they recommend:

Set a good example by packing a waste-free lunch every day. It's easy once you make it part of your daily routine.

Packing a waste-free lunch may take a bit more time and creativity but, given the environmental benefits, it's well worth the extra effort. Here are some tips for making it work:

Talk to students, parents, and teachers about the benefits of packing a waste-free lunch. Post signs in the lunch area and send informative notices home to families. Get students, parents, teachers, and administrators involved. If possible, schedule a field trip to the landfill or recycling facility so students will understand where their trash goes.

Perform a trash audit to find out what's in your trash. Is your trash made up of mostly food waste or packaging waste? Does it contain compostables or recyclables? If so, how can these be diverted? Is the bulk of the trash coming from home or from the school lunch program? What changes will help reduce the amount of waste headed for the landfill?

Save money with waste-free lunches.

Packing a waste-free lunch not only reduces landfill waste, but it costs less too. A prepackaged lunch costs about $4.02 a day or $723.60 per school year compared to $2.65 a day ($477.00 per school year) for a waste-free lunch-a difference of $246.60 per person per year. And adults can save even more. In fact, an adult can save an estimated $100,000 over a 30-year career by packing lunch from home. (This assumes a cost of $3.50 for a home-packed lunch compared to $6 for a takeout meal.)

Help your school save money.

Finally, waste-free lunch programs help schools reduce waste hauling fees by reducing the amount of trash they send to the landfill. If every American child attending a public elementary school packed a waste-free lunch, 1.2 billion pounds of lunch waste would be diverted from landfills each year. The money saved could be spent on educational programs instead. Landfills would last longer, and children would learn the importance of protecting the planet. So, if you're doing lunch this school year, make sure it's waste-free!


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