A generation ago, status in the school cafeteria was determined by two things: Which TV character was on your lunchbox, and whether it contained the coolest, junkiest, most popular snack. Today, coolness is measured by how “green” your lunch is. In other words, whether your lunch box is made from recycled materials, and whether it contains a reusable sandwich wrap, washable water bottle, cloth napkin, and no prepackaged foods.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, one Pennsylvania school uses student-decorated plates in the lunch line instead of disposable plastic plates. They also promote “Waste-Free Wednesdays” – a weekly zero-waste lunch. Students bring cloth napkins, reusable utensils and reusable water bottles, and eliminate juice boxes, plastic bags and aluminum foil. The school even helps the kids out by selling a cloth “snack pack” lunchbox that unfolds into a placemat, and includes a reusable sandwich wrapper and bamboo utensils.
Can ditching brown paper bags and plastic wrap, and using a recycled lunch box really help the environment? Yes. According to WasteFreeLunches.org, the average schoolchild generates 67 pounds of disposable food packaging every year. Which means, each child generates more trash than the weight of the average fourth grader! However, reducing, reusing and recycling aren’t the only keys to a green lunch. The food matters, too. Schools pushing green lunches recommend fresh fruits and veggies instead of processed, packaged foods to eliminate waste and improve health. They’re also helping students plant farms on campus. Studies show that student farmers are more likely to try the food they’re growing – and like it. At many schools, students turn food scraps from the lunch room into compost, which is then used to fertilize the on-campus farm, and grow foods used in the cafeteria. If you’d like to learn more about the green lunch movement, the website is WasteFreeLunches.org.