Brown Bag It—Without the Bag: Waste-Free Brown Bag Lunches

This year, earn an A+ in school lunch. The average child who takes a disposable lunch bag and plastic-wrapped food to school generates sixty-seven pounds of garbage per school year (New York Department of Environmental Conservation). That adds up to about 18,760 pounds of lunch waste per elementary school.

1.Choose a lunchbox. Metal containers or organic cotton or hemp bags make durable food carriers.

2.Pack food in reusable containers. Avoid plastic bags, wrapped, and prepackaged foods. Hard-sided containers keep food from being squashed.

3.Make a cloth napkin. Instead of paper, make a fabric napkin for each child to decorate and sign–a project that gives kids ownership and increases the chances the napkin won’t be lost.

4.Use a refillable drink bottle. Single-serve drink boxes, pouches, bottles, and cans create trash–and they can’t be resealed for later use.

5.Pack reusable utensils. Stainless steel knives, forks, and spoons make lunch feel like a “real” meal.

6.Teach children about recycling. At home, encourage them to separate recyclables from non-recyclables so they understand the importance of not creating waste.

–from The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide: Fresh Ideas for Making Wholesome, Earth-friendly Lunches Your Kids Will Love by Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring (Morning Run Press, 2002). For more information, visit

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