Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Minimize lunchbox packaging - Zero Waste Week

Did you know it's Zero Waste Week?  I'm proud to be an ambassador for this movement, and to help by sharing tips and ideas on how we can all work towards reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfill.

The theme for this year is 'one more thing'.  By now most of us are pretty savvy and recycle our rubbish at home, take our bottles to the bottle bank and probably use reusable bags in favour of plastic ones.  But there's always a little more each and every one of us can do.

Ambassadors will be sharing our individual pledges of the one more thing we've promised to do.  Will you sign up and pledge to do one more thing?  A small change in habit or behaviour can make a big difference.

My pledge is to try and reduce the amount of rubbish in the school lunchbox. To steer away from those individually pre-packed items and to try and go waste-free by not using wrappings, foil or disposable pots.

I took this photo of a week's worth of rubbish collected from my daughter's school lunchboxes.  Dinners principally made using the 'lunchbox' items the supermarkets flaunt at us - particularly at back-to-school time. From what Ruby tells me, most of her friends have similar kinds of items in every day.

I was shocked!  Look at it all.  Wow.

This doesn't include the daily fruit peelings, trimmings and cores etc because those go to compost.  It also doesn't include sandwich making stuff because I'm going to continue making sandwiches most days and because things like bread, cheese and ham etc are used by the whole family and not just for Ruby's lunchboxes.

So let's see how much waste we create if we avoid the individually packaged items.  Here's the equivalent waste from the following week when I ditched the pre-packed lunchbox foods.  Are you ready?

A big difference huh?  Amazing in fact.

So how did I do it?

Here's an example of the type of lunchbox I made being mindful of packaging.

I switched multi-bags of individual packs of crisps for one large bag which I put in a washable lidded pot.

I made yoghurt at home and served it in a washable lidded pot too.

I switched pepperami's for slices of chorizo.

I switched packaged cake, cereal bars and biscuits for homemade flapjack or cakes made in washable silicone cases.

I used leftovers more effectively from the previous night's dinners.

I used homegrown fruit and veg where possible - no packaging at all.

I switched Babybels and individual portion wrapped cheeses for one family pack of cheddar and included chunks of cheese in her lunchbox.

I never use clingfilm or foil to wrap food or sandwiches.  Providing you use a sectioned lunchbox or separate containers, there's just no need to.

Juice cartons were swapped for a reusable bottle of water or squash - I used homemade cordial so no waste at all.

OK, I'll admit, all this homemade stuff does ultimately have some waste, but an empty flour and sugar bag once a month or so is WAY better than before.

My top tips for zero waste lunchboxes:

Alternative containers:

Invest in a Bento style lunchbox and a few little pots or silicone cake cases.

Personally, I love the click-lock bento box by Munchkin and the Simesta lunch box is our current favourite because it includes a drinks bottle.  It's available in most supermarkets for between £4-5.

You can pick up small plastic lidded pots cheaply and they will last and last.

Alternative foods:

Don't be seduced by the supermarkets.  There's is absolutely no need for you to buy mini packs of cocktail sausages, nets of pre-packed cheeses and individually wrapped snack packs.

Use leftovers creatively.  Ruby loves it if we ever have a takeaway as she gets rice; popadoms; prawn crackers or naan bread in her box!  Cold rice with a handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn is a favourite, as are cold sausages or cold Yorkshire puddings with some leftover roast beef inside.  I also use batter leftover from yorkshire pudding etc to make fritters which are a great alternative to sandwiches.

Use what you have in your fridge or cupboard rather than buying items especially for lunchboxes, as they'll often have excessive packaging.  Things like crackers, breadsticks, popcorn, rice cakes and even cereal make a welcome addition to a lunchbox and don't have anyway near the packaging of specially produced lunchbox fillers.

Make your own jelly, mousse and yoghurt and serve in washable containers, this will create a fraction of the waste.

Why buy a plastic bag filled with mini boxes of raisins or dried fruit when you can make up your own portions from your baking goodies?

Make your own treats.  I bake a batch of simple buns or flapjack on a Sunday afternoon, when the oven is on for our roast.  It takes hardly any extra time and the cakes will keep in a tin for the whole week.  I'll make up a small batch, add raisins or cocoa powder to half so there's some variety and maybe make up a tiny dollop of icing to decorate the cakes each day as I go so she's got something different looking every day.

Alternative fun:

One of the biggest reasons we get suckered into buying that kind of stuff is probably because we think it makes their mealtimes more fun. Oh and peer pressure too because so-and-so always has them.  But there's lots of other ways to make your child's meal more appealing than a character-emblazoned plastic wrapper.

Use washable food picks like the ones from Eats Amazing, to add character and fun to the meal.

Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, wraps and biscuits more appealing.

Add a small plastic toy to the box, that way they can have their favourite character, without the packaging waste.  I have a box of 'props' I use for lunchboxes.

Try themeing the lunchbox.  I often do this and Ruby loves it.  I've done country themes; Disney themes, sports themes, even a beach theme!

So, lets just look at the benefits of reducing the lunch box waste shall we?

I don't mean just the environmental benefits.  We all know the reasons why we should reduce the amount of rubbish we produce (and if you don't then you really need to head over to Zero Waste Week to take a read!)

No, I mean the other benefits to approaching lunchboxes this way...

  • Your child will have more variety.  Buying a multi pack usually means they are going to get the same thing for the next 5 days.
  • They are more likely to try new foods.  Bento style boxes with lots of different foods, presented well, encourages them to try different things.
  • They will be more independent.  No more having to ask the dinner ladies for help to open those pesky packets all the time.
  • They will spend more time eating because they're not wrestling with packets and lids.  This should mean that they'll actually eat more food rather than running out of time so less wasted food.
  • Using your leftovers creatively and baking your own means you should save money.
  • You'll undoubtedly be giving healthier options and you'll be fully aware of what's inside the food.
  • They will finish their food faster, giving them more time to play outside, run around and get fresh air - perfect!

So, have I convinced you to ditch the individually packed items?  Will you try and reduce lunchbox waste this term?  Maybe you already have and have tips to share?

Or perhaps you'll pledge something different for your One More Thing?  I'd love to hear.


  1. This is such a fantastic post - so comprehensive and inspiring. I love how you've listed all the benefits and shared such stark before and after photos. Thanks SO much for spreading the message in such a compelling way!

  2. What a great post. This is something I have been meaning to do but never get around to. I think it's the time factor that puts me off but I will start to make more of an effort from now on.

    1. I actually really enjoy making packed lunches, I see it as fun!

  3. This is a super post Liz! I'm tempted to forward it to my Healthy Schools coordinator to show to parents.
    SUCH good ideas and when I supervised reception eating their packed lunch last year, I was often horrified at the rubbish- the lunchbox was still FULL even after they'd eaten things. And of course, at school, it would just have to go in the bin as our borough don't recycle many of these things! I want my own Bento-style lunch too please!? And the ice-cream- what's that made out of?x

    1. Our school makes everyone bring their rubbish home - I guess because they were getting so much?

      Glad you like the lunches. The crazy ice cream is a waffle cone (which was broken!), some cream cheese and a little 'flake' made from salami!

  4. Liz this is a great post and very inspiring- and as a mum whose eldest is just about to start preschool i need all the help I can get to get the packed lunch thing right for my biggest boy rather than fall into bad habits. As much as he loves pom-bears he equally loves other crisps and snacks that come in a bigger bag and changing that is something that I can do right away. As for all your other home made goodies...i envy your home grown skills but hope to go some way to follow suit next year now I have a garden.

  5. It's very easy to get into the habit of pre-packaged foods, but once you stop you'll have much more fun!

    Swapping something like multi pack crisps is a great start, and easy to do.

    Good luck x

  6. Oh you are making me feel guilty! I am going to have to sort my act out. Well done for doing such a good job. *hides the empty lunchbox packets behind my back*

  7. What a fab post and what a difference you've made! We're lucky in that we get free school meals now at infant school, but I'm very conscious that when we get to needing packed lunches I need to be creative about how I do them and try not to get drawn into what the supermarkets want me to buy!

  8. Go you. Fantastic inspiring post that will make everyone think xxx

  9. Wow, I feel really inspired to do this with my kids lunches, will let you know how we get on. xx

  10. Wow, what an excellent post Liz, so many great ideas for change, I've been inpsired.Thanks Mich x