It’s easy to forget how much transportable lunch can be wasteful. Our food and packaging choices make a difference, and nobody needs more single-use plastic or food waste in their lives. Here are 5 zero-waste tricks for packing a more zero-waste lunch.
1. Choose fruit (and friends) that travel well
You know how you have some friends you’d want to go on a road trip with and some you, well, wouldn’t? Not that you don’t love those friends, it’s just maybe they aren’t the road trip type.
The same goes for fruit. There’s nothing like a super juicy peach that’s just bursting out of its skin (or any heirloom fruit where flavor comes before transportability), but maybe it would be better to eat that peach over your kitchen sink as an after-school/after-work snack than out of a lunchbox. As with your non-roadtrip friends, things could get a little messy – and skin (and feelings) a little bruised …and that (at least in the case of fruit) can lead to food waste, or to excess packaging to keep more delicate fruit safe.
Fortunately, some fruits come with their own thick, biodegradable packaging – think bananas, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, mandarines, and clementines. Other fruit, like apples, are tough enough to withstand transport without extra wrapping. If you’re thinking it’s a bit boring to always bring the same fruit, how about some passionfruit, cherimoya, dragonfruit, pomelos, guava, ugli fruit, prickly pears, sapote or blood oranges? The world of hardy fruit is your orchard, whether you’re on the road to exotic places or not.
2. Buy plastic-free bread (and produce)
Despite what Instagram and the pandemic sourdough craze would have you believe, we still don’t all make our own bread. That means your favorite loaf needs to get to your house from the store wrapped in something. Most of the time, that means plastic. A lot of plastic. (How many little plastic bread ties do you have stocked away in your drawers or containers?)
One way to minimize that plastic is by buying breads that come in plastic-free paper bags (we’re talking full paper, not paper with some plastic involved). If that’s not an option, you can always bring your own bread bag to the bakery (there are tons of organic, reusable bread bag options online, from cotton to ones made from recycled plastic drink bottles). If you remember how strange it felt once upon a time to bring your own reusable grocery bags to the store, think how natural it will become to bring your own cloth bag for bread.
3. Make your own granola bars or trail mix
There are some great snack bars and granola bars on the market, and they’re so convenient to grab for your lunch or a snack. But unfortunately, most come in plastic. The only way to avoid it is to make your own granola bars and wrap them in cloth, beeswax wraps, or tupperware for the daily commute. From refined sugar- and nut-free granola bars sweetened with dates, to no-bake bars with chocolate chips, coconut, and almond butter, to simple 5-ingredients bars, you could eat a different homemade granola bar for the rest of your life. You would, admittedly, be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, so we do recommend making a huge batch and freezing a bunch!
If you still think making your own granola bars sounds like way too much work, how about just throwing together some nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and some puffed amaranth, quinoa, or rice (all of which can be found in bulk)? If you want it sticky, add some peanut butter and (of course) honey.
4. Try DIY beeswax food wrap
Beeswax food wraps as plastic wrap alternatives have become more popular in recent years. And they’re great! They make use of natural, reusable and compostable products to take the place of single-use plastic (and if you make them yourself, they can be a fun way of showing some personality in the lunchroom!). A number of companies sell them in various sizes, but too often they just don’t have the size you need, or in a fabric that speaks to you. Rather than resort to plastic wrap, maybe it’s time to make your own!
Whether you want a custom size to transport your giant sandwiches or because you want a fun DIY project for home, all you need is an old t-shirt you’re not willing to toss, or a piece of clothing your child has outgrown, and you can turn it into food wrap! Alvéole has recently launched a beeswax food wrap block made of beeswax and resin. All you have to do is grate a couple tablespoons of the block over any piece of cotton fabric you choose and briefly place it in the oven to melt the wax! The best part is you can even re-wax that favourite shirt or fabric again and again … until you have the emotional strength to compost it.
5. Say no plastic cutlery or plastic packaging
If you’re ordering takeout or delivery for lunch, either for yourself, your family, or the entire office (remember catered lunches?), don’t be afraid to ask to skip the cutlery, or even to suggest alternative packaging. If you think your one little voice won’t accomplish anything, or that the restaurant won’t take your request to look into alternatives seriously, remember that you might be a tiny wave in a pond, or you might be a cannonball! Kathryn Kellogg of goingzerowaste.com would probably want us all to be cannonballs, which is why her website has tips to help you draft a note – e.g. what stats to cite, what products to recommend, and what not to say.
For more ways to help the environment through what you eat, check out our blog post on 5 food choices to reduce your environmental footprint.