When I was standing with my foot helplessly on the first rung of the ladder of my bank job many years ago, my packed lunch consisted of:
- Sandwiches wrapped in cling film or a plastic sandwich bag
- A chocolate bar or individually wrapped biscuit
- A yogurt, or similar, in a small plastic pot
- A packet of crisps
- A piece of fruit
- A plastic bottle or carton of drink
Yikes! All of the packaging would end up in the bin, along with my 10 or so disposable cups (and perhaps another chocolate bar wrapper if it had been a stressful day) collected throughout the day from the vending machine.
When Little Miss Green was at school, she got into the idea of baby bell cheeses, yogurt drinks that come in plastic tubes, along with dairy lea things where you dip the savoury sticks into some kind of naff dip.
Every night, she would bring her empty lunch box home. Only it wasn’t. It was full of packaging that went straight in the bin. More often than not she would have helped herself to a plastic spoon from the school canteen and bought on of those home as well. Into the bin it went.
Well, now I’m a reformed zero waste packed lunch person and I thought I’d share some tips. It’s actually quite easy to reduce your waste from a packed lunch with a little forward planning and some tweaks to purchases.
Sandwiches do need to be kept airtight otherwise you end up with something pretty inedible by lunchtime. Especially if you’re working in an air conditioned office which tends to dry things out.
There are plenty of alternatives to cling film however.
Freebies include the paper bags you find in the supermarket next to the mushrooms. Am I suggesting shoplifting? Well, call it a perk for loyal custom if it helps assuage your guilt. Or just buy a few mushrooms if you really want to be honest about things.
If you use a vegetable box scheme, then keep the paper bags and re use them for your sandwiches. Likewise think creatively about the things you regularly throw away – bread packaging, the wrapping found inside cereal boxes, frozen vegetable bags, fresh vegetable bags from the supermarket. At least give them another lease of life before you finally resign them to a life of hundreds of years in the landfill.
The wrap ‘n’ mat are a fab idea that serves as a built in tablecloth too if you’re eating in a dubious place!
If you switch to something like ryvita, oatcakes or rice cakes, these don’t need wrapping to keep them fresh. They’re crispy anyway, so the air between when you pack your meal and eating it won’t adversely affect them.
Buying in bulk packs does save on packaging waste. Quite significantly. I keep promising the post on this, and it will be coming up in the future. So if you want crisps, buy a large bag, instead of individual ‘snack packs’ and take a few in a small plastic pot each day. Some areas will recycle pringles tubs, so maybe you’ll have to treat yourself to a small tub of those instead. What a shame!
There are some chocolate varieties that do not come in plastic packaging. These include Co-Op fair trade bars, munchies and rolos. But perhaps the best thing to do is buy a 100g bar that comes wrapped in paper and foil and just take a few chunks to work every day. 😉 Hands up if the bar lasts you past Tuesday.
Biscuits and cakes can be made for a fraction of the cost of shop bought and you can just take a couple in a small container inside your lunchbox. They can be frozen in advance and taken out when you pack your meal if temptation would have you eating the lot before you have taken the lid off your box!
Fruit and yogurt
Again with yogurt, it is better for the landfill if you buy a large pot and decant it into smaller containers. Alternatively, make your own with a yogurt maker or flask for the true zero waste option.
Fruit comes in its own packaging, most of which is edible! What isn’t edible will provide a welcome addition to the compost bin. Apples, grapes and seasonal soft fruit can be munched on the go, while bananas, kiwis and oranges can be peeled and the peelings taken home with you. Remember to pack a spoon or knife.
Thinking outside the box
Sometimes it’s good to think outside the lunch box altogether and to move away from the sandwiches, crisps routine.
Dips and crudites
Dips and crudités help reduce waste. You’ll need to put a little preparation into preparing veggies, such as cutting carrot sticks, cucumber and top and tailing radishes or pepper strips, but you can whizz up a dip such as humus or guacamole in the time it would take you to break the seal on a plastic pot. It’s a healthy and zero waste option.
Another idea is to cook an extra portion at tea time and take the leftovers to work with you. Pasta, couscous or rice salad are lovely the next day with some olive oil, herbs and veggies. You can add whatever protein you eat such as prawns, bits of chopped chicken or some chick peas to make a complete meal. Take this in a reusable box with your own fork!
Knocking up a salad when all the fresh leaves are available from farmers markets takes no time at all. Serve with some cooked meat, a tin of fish or a hard boiled egg. Again, put in a reusable box and take your own fork.
During the autumn, home made soup in a flask will provide you with a welcome warm lunch. If you make it a thick soup with lots of veggies and some small pasta or lentils, it’s a complete meal in itself.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with a laptop lunchbox. You don’t need any extra packaging, as a tray system helps keep all your food fresh until lunchtime. There are lots of inspiring recipes to try too. We have one to give away later in the year, so keep checking back to find out how to win one.
If you want to be more purist about it, and are trying to reduce as much plastic in your life, then you can buy stainless steel sandwich boxes and tiffin lunch box sets from Amazon.
Remember that one of the most significant zero waste actions you can take is to not waste food! So don’t overfill your child’s lunchbox and, as an adult, only take with you what you will comfortably eat during your lunch break.
What about you? I’ve only touched on the surface of a reduced waste lunch. How can we take things a stage further to create the ultimate zero waste lunch?
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