Don’t waste your food
Zero waste goes back to school
From Lunchables and little juice boxes with little straws to cellophane-wrapped fruit bars and tubes of Go-Gurt, the popularity of individually packaged lunch and snack foods is raging strong. The result has been millions of gallons of food waste in landfills in the name of convenience.
Not to discredit convenience. Parents are busy and want fast, easy ways to pack a lunch for their kids. But, according to wastefreelunches.org, the average school-aged child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste each school year.
Lisa Moore, a parent and interior designer, has teamed with Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful and the City of Reno to teach local fifth graders about reducing food waste in a program called Go Green. Using home-based activities and exercises that tie into the schools’ math, language arts and science curriculum, about 25 Elmcrest Elementary fifth graders and their families prevented 488 gallons of trash from entering Reno’s waste stream in one month last spring. The program encouraged kids to go with their parents to the grocery store to choose products that use less packaging, and to take an active part in packing it themselves. Moore hopes to add 20 schools to the program this year.
“We all know the three R’s: reduce reuse, recycle,” says Moore. “But we tend to focus on the recycling. We think we’re being really responsible if we recycle, and that’s true, but we need to shift our focus to reducing and reusing. Then whatever’s left, recycle.”
At Heart to Hand, a Waldorf school in Reno for ages 3-6, zero waste is an added benefit of teaching children to respect themselves, others and the environment. The school asks parents to provide lunch in a basket or other container free of media, marketing or cartoon characters. The containers are to be glass or ceramic, not plastic, as some plastics can produce toxic offgassing. Parents are also asked to provide cloth napkins for their kids, and that the lunch be made of whole foods with no packaging.
“The concept of whole foods really helps eliminate a lot of prepackaging,” says Keli Brown, administrator of Heart to Hand.
The school provides kids with sugar-free drinks served from a glass pitcher and a whole-grain snack every day, both of which reduce waste significantly. At the end of the meal, compostable leftovers are taken to the school’s compost bin.
“The zero waste is really an added benefit to the quality of the child’s sense perception, so that what they see, what they feel and what they taste is of the utmost importance in their development,” says Brown. “It isn’t a coincidence that to have that value will also promote these environmental ideals like zero waste. Once you develop that mindfulness of the human experience, we quit abusing the human environment.”
Zero waste lunches—or near-zero—basically come down to buying in bulk and getting various sizes of reusable containers and bags in which to put the food and drinks.
A byproduct a zero waste lunch can be better health because it encourages kids and parents to eat more whole and fewer processed foods. Many prepackaged foods contain higher amounts of sugar and preservatives than whole foods. But zero waste doesn’t necessitate a diet overhaul.
“You can still have your Doritos,” says Moore. “But you buy them in a large amount and put them in a reusable container.”