By Larraine Roulston:
This time of year, we think of students returning to school and lunches being packed by parents and students alike. Reducing lunch waste applies not only to students, but to all individuals or groups of workers of every description. Admittedly, pre-packaged lunches are popular; however, they come with an inherent cost — non-recyclable packaging, unhealthy processed food and extra carbon emissions.
What’s more, I was surprised to discover that food writer, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo’s new book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, reveals that the military has had a hand in influencing the way we eat. The military’s need to get rations to the front lines forced them to tackle issues of perishability, durability and affordability. This led to processed foods and all the associated packaging. What was done in order to provide rations to soldiers during war eventually translated to the American diet. In addition, she feels that when kids get used to eating in this fashion they will be conditioned to military lifestyle meals. Definitely new food for thought!
Steps you can take to lessen your lunch’s carbon footprint include reusing containers and taking a thermos for a beverage or soup. Apple cores and other organics will be slated for landfill unless you have a work-based composting system or take them home to a backyard compost heap or for residential green bin organics collection.
For a healthier lunch alternative to processed meats, yogurts and cheeses, consider going vegan for at least once a week. This could include a container of quinoa salad, wraps with hummus or salad with sprouts, nuts, seeds, fruits and raw veggies. Ask at your favorite deli if organic meat is available. My daughter did this knowing it was not currently available, but with her repeated requests the supermarket manager began offering organic processed meat which, in turn, quickly became a popular item. Buy locally. Think seasonally. Ask questions.
To introduce children to waste free habits, many recycling councils on both sides of the Atlantic have incorporated a Waste-Free Lunch Challenge during Waste Reduction Week. For 2015, Waste Reduction Week will be celebrated during October 19-25. Generally, the average student generates thirty kilograms of lunch waste per school year. When taking part in the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge, students commit to bring a waste-free lunch every day for one week. Each day, lunchroom supervisors and students conduct a waste audit by placing all single-use containers, wrappers, fruit peelings and unfinished food on a table to be sorted into categories of organics, recycling and waste. Reuse is promoted over recycling, noting that even yogurt can be spooned from a large container into one both smaller and reusable.
Catherine Leighton, who manages the Waste-Free Lunch program explains, “The Challenge provides an excellent opportunity to empower, inspire and educate youth to think about smarter consumption and waste minimization. It allows students to understand how their individual actions can make a difference. Best of all, since 2010, participating schools have prevented nearly 90,000 kilograms (200,000 pounds) of food and packaging from entering disposal through the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge. In 2014, the average Waste-Free Lunch Challenge student was able to reduce their waste from 33 grams to just 21 grams per day.” Each of the most successful schools are rewarded also for its environmental commitment. For 2015, twenty winners will receive a set of Rubbermaid LunchBlox reusable sandwich kits to help them go waste free throughout the year.
Once our youth get into the habit of reusing and recycling, it will be convenient and easy for them to carry waste-free lunches into their
workplaces and while traveling. For today’s adults, wastefulness has been encouraged. It is certainly time to break the mold; after all, creating garbage is not in our DNA. It’s all about changing habits in the world of Zero Waste.
Larraine authors a children’s book series on composting at www.castlecompost.com