The average lunchbox contains lots of needless wrapping. So how easy is to create eco-friendly alternatives and will children eat them?
A couple of months ago my son’s dislike of school dinners reached the tipping point, and outweighed his parents’ refusal to find an extra 10 minutes each morning. We did the unthinkable and switched to packed lunches.
A shelf in the kitchen quickly filled with colourful packages, each containing smaller packages. The drink cartons came with plastic straws, in tiny film sleeves stuck to the composite carton with a dab of glue. We bought them in trios, swathed in more plastic.And all the while the calls to cut plastic waste were growing and growing. Our treat shelf began to feel like a shelf of shame.
Could we manage a week of plastic-free packed lunches – and maybe change our habits for good?
First, a cold-eyed audit of the usual lunchbox. There’s a roll, wrapped in greaseproof paper, a raw carrot, peeled and wrapped in foil, a piece of fresh fruit, an individually wrapped treat – often a Soreen mini malt loaf or a Bear fruit yoyo – and a carton of juice. The lunchbox itself is plastic, and I am attracted to some stainless-steel multi-compartmental containers that would look nice in photographs. But the zero-waste consultant Rachelle Strauss tells me: “The most sustainable choice is to buy nothing.” So we stick with what we have got.
Next, the drink carton. I would love to know how many environmentally minded parents still send their children to school with a drink carton in their lunchbox, as I have done unthinkingly for weeks. It is such an easy fix to switch to a refillable sports bottle. We are saving packaging and money. My son, Gabriel, who is eight, is happy not to be using straws and doesn’t seem to miss the juice.
But the rolls are a problem. We buy them from a supermarket, wrapped in plastic film. Most mass-produced bread now comes in bags that can be recycled, so why not rolls? The loose rolls in the supermarket have gone hard by the time I get there at 5pm, and I know that a hard roll is bound to come home. I bike to my local baker’s. It’s shut.
So day one starts with a sandwich, using up last night’s chicken. I fold it up in a reusable beeswax wrap, and buy some compostable baking paper for emergencies. There’s an extra piece of fruit instead of the treat. The treats are a sticking point: Soreen says the plastic film wrapping of its mini loaves is not recyclable. In our lunch hours my husband picks up popping corn loose from Whole Foods, and I start to collect ingredients for carrot and pineapple muffins.
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