This post contains affiliate links. This means I may make a small commission if you
purchase something. It does NOT change your purchase in any way.
Packing a waste free lunch is one of the easiest ways you can live a little greener! It doesn’t take special skills – just follow a few rules!
In this post, I’ll share simple rules you can follow to turn your waste-filled lunch into a waste free lunch!
Why Pack a Waste Free Lunch
When I talk about a waste free lunch what comes to mind for you?
Is it a lunch where you don’t put anything in the trash when you’re done? Is it a lunch where you put some things in the recycle or compost bin but nothing in the trash (landfill) can?
For me, it’s all of those things plus one more.
I aim to pack a lunch where nothing goes into the trash can, as little as possible goes into the recycling bin, some goes into the compost bin (although compost bins aren’t typically available in schools) AND my supplies are made of materials that are sourced in eco-friendly ways AND that can be disposed of in eco-friendly ways when we are done using them.
(Check out my post, “3 Easy Ways to Help Your School Go Green” for tips on getting your school to recycle and/or compost!)
I know all of that may sound like a lot of work but not to worry – I am going to make it easy for you to change your old lunch packing habits and get going with some new, eco-friendly ones!
Here’s how I like to break down packing a waste free lunch…and a few supply suggestions to get you started:
Really the only rule you need to follow for a waste free lunch bag is to make sure it doesn’t turn into waste. In other words, it’s reusable. Easy, right?
Virtually any bag that you don’t throw away after each use qualifies as waste free but, of course, some are better than others.
So, you could toss your lunch into a plastic grocery bag which is great since you are reusing it for another purpose but I say stay away from plastic – and plastic grocery bags (check out these reusable shopping bags instead). The more we as consumers refuse plastic the clearer the message will be to manufacturers that plastic isn’t for us.
If you are starting from scratch and are purchasing a new reusable lunch bag I say go for something that is made from a fabric that is sustainably produced. So, something like this organic cotton lunch bag is a great choice.
Organically produced cotton is farmed in a way that has a lower impact on the environment. Organic farming methods replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.
I get it though, most kids want a colorful, cute lunch box and not a boring, adult-looking one! Gotcha covered there too! Check out this adorable, eco-friendly lunch box that comes in different shapes and with a variety of cute images.
My kids are beyond nap and snack time at school (although I’m sure my high schooler could use both!) but swapping to a reusable snack bag is a super-easy way to go waste free.
Going with a reusable snack bag is MUCH better than grabbing a single-use plastic bag that will no doubt end up in a landfill for a LONG time!
There are lots of options out there but here are a few I like.
Lunchskins makes great, durable reusable snack bags that come in a variety of sizes and super cute patterns.
Full Circle is a great company that makes a wide variety of eco-friendly products for the home, including these adorable reusable bags.
These Amazon top-rated reusable bags have the look of plastic ziplock bags but are instead made from food-grade eco-friendly materials and are free of PVC, BPA, and chloride and lead.
I grew up with and for many years as a mom, myself used those plastic sandwich bags with the fold-over top. I used them for sandwiches, chips, fruit, etc. Then at lunchtime, my kids would toss those bad boys right into the trash.
I’m the type of person that is pretty darn good at beating themselves up over the past but let’s not go there! 🙂
Instead, let’s move forward with some eco-friendly food container ideas you can use to easily pack a waste free lunch!
I usually like to have one divided container for the whole lunch but I know some may like multiples containers instead. Here are a few to get you started.
Stainless steel is a GREAT material for food containers. It isn’t sourced from a non-renewable resource like plastic is. It doesn’t have the potential to leach harmful chemicals into food as plastic does. It is readily recyclable unlike plastic is becoming. And, it is extremely durable and will last a long time.
You may take a look at these stainless steel containers and be a little shocked at the prices. I get it! Who wants to shell out a lot of money for a lunch container? How unexciting!!
Before you revert back to those cheap, plastic containers give some thought to how much longer the stainless steel container will last you vs. how much you’ll end up paying for multiples of the cheaper plastic versions.
Lunchtime drinks can be one of the biggest trash generators. Think about all of the juice pouches and milk and juice boxes tossed into the trash at school lunchtime!
I know you are probably thinking about how darn convenient those drink pouches are and what a time and sanity saver they can be in the morning – especially before coffee!
And I get it!! I am still a mom who does NOT pack lunches the night before so I am all about convenience.
For me, trying to live green every day is a balancing act between your sanity, convenience and thinking about the big picture. It isn’t about driving yourself and your family crazy – or maybe that’s just how it feels in my family?! :-0
In any case, if you have to do juice and milk boxes to keep things sane, know that they are recyclable in your paper recycling bin. So, at the very least get your kids to recycle them at school OR bring them home to be put in your home bin.
(If you need help getting recycling bins up in your home, check out my post, “How To Start Recycling At Home With Your Family” )
If you’re ready to ditch single-use beverages and upgrade to reusables, again stainless steel is my go-to. By the way, we are now a family obsessed with using stainless steel bottles!
We have the larger version of this bottle and Hydroflask is awesome! It keeps drinks COLD, is easy to clean and holds up really well!
These are really similar to Swell insulated, stainless steel bottles but are a cute small size and a cute, smaller price!
Going waste free when it comes to packing utensils is pretty easy – just throw in your some of your regular utensils from home! Done!
However, if you’re concerned about forks and spoons never making it home and you want a dedicated lunch box set, I recommend picking up an inexpensive set of regular silverware to use instead.
Or if you want a cute set of sustainably sourced utensils, here is a set of bamboo that also includes chopsticks and a straw!
If you feel more comfortable sending a more disposable-like set of utensils, check out this great set from Preserve. They are made from 100% recycled plastic and are 100% recyclable!
In our home, we are paper towel and napkin free which to some may seem a little drastic BUT it was waaaaay easier to do than you think!
(If you’re interested in making the switch in your house too, check out my post, “3 Easy Alternatives to Paper Towels“ to get started)
Since we are paper towel and napkin free at home, we are also paper napkin free in our waste free lunch! It’s easy fo me to grab one of the regularly used cloth napkins and toss it into the lunch box.
If you don’t have a stash of cloth napkins around I found these adorable cloth napkins for kids.
I love that they are cute and colorful, come in a variety of patterns – and are reusable!!
I couldn’t pass up recommending these PickmeUp napkins with great, positive messages on every single one. LOVE!
Please Return To
I know I have just thrown a lot of different waste free lunch supplies at you. I also know that some of them are not exactly cheap (although in the long run, they are!!) so you may want to protect your investment.
Just like you might label your kids’ backpack, I like to label my lunch supplies on the off chance (okay, maybe the likelihood!) my kid “forgets” to bring something home.
I have used my trusty label maker to label food containers, drink containers, snack bags and more! I have one similar to the one pictured here.
In addition to the supplies you use to pack a waste free lunch, you should also consider the packaging the food you are buying is in.
Ideally, you should aim for as little packaging as possible and think about what packaging is made of and if it can be recycled. For example, opt for the large size bag of pretzels instead of the individual snack bags.
I know, I know, those individual snack bags are so cute and so darn convenient but the bulk or full-size bags create less waste! Plus it’s so easy to dump a portion of pretzels into a reusable container instead. Right?!
Also, choose fresh, whole fruit instead of pre-cut fruit sold in plastic containers. I realize it takes time to cut whole fruit but all of that extra plastic packaging is SO unnecessary!
One of my go-to resources for fitting meal-prepping into your busy schedule is Denise at Sweet Peas & Saffron. Not only does she offer great tips and suggestions for how to meal prep but also super delicious recipes! And she’s a mom too so she gets that the struggle is real!
Now that you are armed with all sorts of info from why it’s important to pack a waste free lunch to the supplies you need to make it easy – go forth and start packing!
And while you’re at, get your kids involved! Even little kids can get in on filling up those reusable bottles with their favorite (mom-approved!) beverage for lunch or dumping Goldfish into reusable snack bags!
I’d love to hear how you pack a waste free lunch! Let me know!!
These are great tips for the most part, but I’m wondering how you can say stainless steel is a renewable resource—it’s made from ores that exist in limited amounts in the Earth’s crust, right?
Milk and juice boxes are NOT recyclable in paper recycling bins here in Pittsburgh. It’s great if you can put them in curbside recycling where you live, but in a lot of places they’re considered a contaminant because they contain plastic as well as paper.
I bought a PlanetBox lunch kit for my son when he started kindergarten. He wore out 2 carrying cases and got a 3rd one but kept using the same box for K-6 before he decided to start eating the school lunch. Now his sister is starting kindergarten using the same PlanetBox with that 3rd case. Stainless steel really does last!
Hi and thanks for your comment! Maybe using the word “renewable” was a bit of an overstatement and I’m happy to clarify it in my post. I did read a number of articles, including this one (https://sciencing.com/metal-as-a-renewable-or-nonrenewable-resource-5192262.html) that puts metals in a bit of a hybrid category between renewable and non-renewable. I did also want to make the point that a stainless steel container is a better choice than plastic for a number of reasons. That’s too bad that you can’t recycle milk and juice boxes because I know how convenient they are. 🙁