School Beat: Ways you can help reduce lunchroom waste

By Larry Watters, Parkside Elementary Principal

As an Elementary Principal, one of my favorite times of the day is lunch. It’s a time when I get to check in with all the kids in attendance. Not only do I get to see them, but I also get to see what they brought for lunch. The adults assigned to the lunchroom attempt to have students eat what they bring from home.  When they are unable, or don’t want to eat something from home, we ask that they bring it back home so you are informed of what they did or did not eat.

Now, I have to admit it’s been several years since our household has had to pack a child’s lunch. I also understand that each child is different in what they will and will not eat. When a parent packs a lunch, it can be at times a balance between convenience and cost. When my children were young the considerations for cost were mostly monetary. We also considered environmental costs. Today, parents are better informed and rightfully those costs are considered more thoughtfully.

All elementary buildings have differing abilities and interests to recycle in lunchrooms. Although all Rockford elementary schools have plastic and paper recycling measures, what each is able to do in the lunchrooms varies greatly.  What I ask all parents to do to help is to consider the following three suggestions to provide your child with a more “eco-friendly” and sustainable lunch:

1. Skip individually wrapped foods.
This convenience comes at a high environmental cost. Bento-style lunchboxes can be expensive but could last your child’s whole elementary career. Bento-style lunch boxes have separate compartments within the lunchbox. If you go this route, you will have to decide what style works for your child. One ingenious idea I’ve seen is when parents use silicone baking cups to separate larger compartments in these lunchboxes without using baggies.

2. Switch from single-use plastic bags. 
There are many choices out there for reusable lunch food containers. In addition, if your child brings a fresh snack that has organic waste, and if your school doesn’t compost, your child can bring the organic waste home to your compost pile.

3. Pack a water bottle
Many students that bring in cold lunches bring a disposable beverage container. Advertisers will compete for your dollars selling you the greatest percentage of natural juice. I would suggest you consider providing your child with water in a reusable container. From my experience, most K-5 students do not drink more than 8 ounces of liquid at lunch.  A small reusable water bottle will fit in their lunch and will reduce waste. In addition, it will eliminate those non-recyclable straws and containers.

These are three simple considerations that may help to reduce our lunchroom waste. I appreciate those that balance these with the many other factors when making choices about what to pack in your child’s lunch.  For those wanting a greater challenge, you may want to consider your meat and dairy choices, as we know those items have a higher environmental footprint than plant-based foods. Buying un-wrapped bulk items and buying locally and seasonally can also reduce our carbon footprint and can prove to be more cost-effective.

Environmental All-Stars, here’s your challenge: Pack your child a waste-free lunch. Take a picture of the lunch and share it with us on Parkside’s Elementary PTO Facebook page.