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Time to Rethink How you Eat - Lunch

Part 2 of a 3 part series

As discussed in the Time to Rethink Breakfast article, each time we get take-out we produce lots of trash.  In this article, we will help you create less trash at lunch-time.  If you bring your lunch to work daily, great job, but it is still worth reading this article to ensure the containers you are using are as healthy for you as possible.

Changing Your Routine

I will be honest there are two things that make bringing lunch to work in the most eco-friendly way somewhat difficult – the prep and the clean-up.  Prep is the easiest (and greenest) when you can take leftovers from dinner, which does require cooking a bit extra.  One nice perk of this plan is that I often find that meals taste better the second time around.

For the clean-up, since there should be no trash to throw-out, there will be dishes, containers, and utensils to clean.  The sandwich and snack bags can be the most time consuming, but if you keep in mind what isn’t going into the trash, you will realize it is worth it.  I make sure I have enough sandwich and snack bags for the week so that if I am being lazy by not washing I have others that are clean that I can use and still be green!

Speaking of washing, I highly recommend a bag drying rack.  Most reusable bags can go in the dishwasher, but since I don’t scrape my plates before putting them in the dishwasher I found the velcro on my bags came out of the machine with food stuck on it.  With the drying rack, I now hang my wet bags on it inside out to make sure the insides are completely dry before I use them again.

It is all in the Packaging

For items that need to be reheated, glass containers are the only healthy option.  When plastic is microwaved (or washed in hot water) it gives off toxic emissions.  In particular, plastic containers with BPA (bisphenol - A) should be avoided.  You can identify them by the 3, 6, or 7 in the triangle on the bottom of the container.  Inexpensive glass containers can be found at your local grocery store.  Putting leftovers immediately in these containers also eliminates the need for tin foil or saran wrap to cover food in a bowl or on a plate.

When packing sandwiches and snacks, do you use Ziploc bags and/or plastic containers or do you use reusable bags?  If you use reusable bags, you get major green points!  When thrown out, Ziploc bags basically never decompose.  Next time you see one feel it, you will get a sense of how strong they are and understand how long they must sit in landfills in exactly the same state.  Ziploc bags are also a problem because they are made from petroleum. 

If possible, try to avoid frozen meals as they usually include lots of packaging and they often come in a plastic serving dish.  As discussed earlier, microwaving plastic emits dangerous toxins, so you should try to avoid them if you can.  The reality of course is that you will buy some from time to time.  When you do, please remember to recycle the box and the dish.

Don’t Forget about your Drink

If you don’t have a refillable drink container, you should get one.  I have one for water and another one for fountain drinks like soda or lemonade.  Just like coffee mugs, you should try a bunch until you find one you really like.  If your water or soft drink does not taste good to you in your refillable container you won’t use it.

Another Eco-Status Symbol

If you read my Eco-Status Symbol article about reusable grocery bags, here is another eco-status symbol for you, the reusable lunch bag.  Admit it when you see people with their bags you know that they are doing good things for the environment by bringing their lunch to work.  If you don’t have your own bag, it is ok to use plastic bags for this purpose as at least that gives those bags a job.  But, I say go ahead and treat yourself to your own bag!  And then when you bring your lunch, remember to pack your utensils and a napkin.

If you can bring lunch with you one more day per week than you do today you will keep a lot of trash out of the landfills.  Considering that each meal typically produces 6 or 7 pieces of trash (wrappers, utensils, napkins, bag, and drink container), if you brought your lunch one day more per week, that would be ~312 less items of trash in the local landfill that have your name on it.  When you eat out, ask for no bag (unless you really need it) and use your own napkin and utensils.  Keep these items handy in your desk, at work, or in your car. 

Things to remember:

  • Try to bring lunch one more day per week than you do today.
  • Avoid plastic containers (use glass containers for meals and reusable bags for sandwiches and snacks).
  • Use a refillable drink container.
  • Always bring your own utensils and napkin with you whether you brought your own lunch or if you are getting take-out.