My idea of "zero waste" also means no paper or plastic to add to garbage or recycling. Individual packaging of food servings is incredibly wasteful and expensive. It's very common for a child's lunchbox to contain a plastic container of fruit, plastic utensils, a plastic yogurt cup or bottle, a plastic drink bottle, and a Lunchable plastic container. Those are all recyclable in my community. Then there are the nonrecyclable containers--foil drink pouches, beverage boxes, microwave-safe soups and pastas(marked recyclable, but not actually recyclable anywhere in Texas), napkins, and plastic sandwich bags.
Our students take the food they did not eat back home in the hopes that parent lunch-makers will adjust for appetite and preferences. This helps reduce waste when the adjustments are made. It also encourages family discussions about food choices.
Parents can save hundreds of dollars per year by purchasing food in quantity and portioning appropriate amounts into resealable, reusable containers for lunchboxes. Safety issues are addressed with adequate washing, thermal containers, and frozen "blue ice" inserts.
Waste in school cafeterias providing a "hot lunch" program must be more than my mind can fathom. I haven't had to visit a school cafeteria since my youngest son left middle school in 2000, and I've almost recovered! There are innovative school districts that involve students in the cafeteria process to improve nutrition and decrease waste. Features of these programs include:
- Student involvement in gardening.
- Student involvement in menu decisions.
- On-site meal preparation.
- Emphasis on fresh foods.
- Student involvement in aspects of food preparation and meal presentation.
- Nutrition education.
- School-wide recycling and reuse programs.
- Student participation in composting and vermicomposting.
Some interesting sources of information:
California Integrated Waste Management Board/Zero-Waste Lunch
Start a waste-free lunch program at your school.
Tips for Packing a Nutritious, Waste-free Lunch from Green Living Ideas
© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder