Waste less in your lunch box

A lunch box containing fruit, vegetables and a quiche with a smiley face on it

How to pack a zero waste lunch box

Lots of us enjoy thinking about lunch, but have you ever thought about the environmental impact of your lunchbox?

A packed lunch every weekday during term time, containing a packet of crisps, a snack bar and a sandwich wrapped in film, produces around 585 items of single use, often non-recyclable plastic in just a year!

Making your own lunch is a great step towards reducing overall waste. We’re all more likely to use up last night’s leftovers if we make our own lunch the next day, and there’s usually less packaging.

We asked our #WasteNothing experts to run through some of the other choices can you make to reduce your lunch box waste.

The container and packaging

Before buying a new lunchbox, think about what you already have in your house that you could use. A tupperware container or old takeaway boxcan be washed up and reused multiple times.

✅ If you need to wrap up snacks, try a sealable container or wrapping them in aluminium foil or reusable food wrap. Foil can be wiped off and used again, then recycled in your green recycling box. If you don’t want to use foil or food wrap why not reuse an old bread bag – you can rinse it and reuse it over and over.

✅ If you can’t avoid pre-packaged food, try to choose products in recyclable packets i.e. card, paper and foil rather than plastic.

Use the scrunch test to help identify recyclable foil: if an item looks like it might contain foil, scrunch it into a ball. If it stays tightly scrunched, it is foil and can be recycled. If it starts to unfold it is paper or plastic-backed foil that can’t be recycled!

❌ Cling film can’t be easily recycled and usually ends up in the bin.

Two reusable plastic lunchboxes seen from above

The main meal

✅ Last night’s leftovers can make a great lunch and help reduce your food waste.

✅ Making a sandwich? Put them in a box instead of wrapping them in foil or film.

✅ If cheese or ham is a favourite sandwich filling then why not take your own pot to the deli counter at your local supermarket and fill up with no additional plastic!

✅ If your child regularly brings home the same uneaten foods, can you find an alternative they would eat? Uneaten food is expensive and environmentally damaging.

❌ Wrapping sandwiches in cling film or buying pre-packaged sandwiches results in a lot of single use and usually non recyclable plastic.

A top-down view of a plastic-free lunchbox

The snacks

Fruit is a healthy and tasty addition to a school lunch box.

✅ Instead of bagged fruit, which not pop a few grapes and a sliced apple into a small pot? The core or peel can then be recycled in the school or home compost, or your food waste bin.

✅ Popcorn is a good alternative to crisps; a bag of kernels will go much further than crisps. It will make far less waste and is fun for the kids to help make!

✅ Can’t resist crisps? Instead of an individual packet of crips, buy a large packet and fill a reusable container with a few crisps each day?

A lunchbox full of zero waste snacks: blueberries, grapes and half an apple

The pudding

Yoghurt is a classic lunchtime dessert, but many yogurt tubes aren’t recyclable.

✅ Try buying a large pot of yogurt and decanting some of it into a small container. You can reuse the pot for glue or paint, or as a flowerpot for seedlings. Choose products with a foil lid that can be recycled along with the pot in your green recycling box.

✅ Make sure to pack a metal or other reusable spoon!

✅ Instead of individual biscuits or chocolate bars, buy a large packet of biscuits. Put a couple into an old takeaway container or wrap them in tin foil each day.

✅ If you enjoy baking you could even try making your own muesli bar or energy balls.

❌ Individually wrapped snack bars and sweets are usually wrapped in single-use and non-recyclable plastic. They’re often more expensive than bulk-buys, too.

A lunch box with strawberries, blueberries, carrot sticks and a healthy snack with a face on it

The drink

✅ Invest in a reusable drinks bottle. If that’s not an option, use an empty bottle that can be reused multiple times and then recycled in your green box.

❌ Cartons and pouches can be difficult to recycle – check our Get It Sorted guide to find out what can be put our for collection in Bristol.

A close up of a woman holding a reusable drink bottle

Show us your lunchbox

We want to see your waste less lunchbox creations! Whether it’s a cheese sandwich in a reused takeaway container, or spending hours creating a beautiful, nutritious salad in a bamboo lunchbox. Share your photos on social media and tag us @BristolWaste on Facebook and Twitter or @BristolWaste company on Instagram.

If you enjoyed this blog, go ahead and share it!