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What is a waste-free lunch program?

A waste-free lunch program begins with a statement. A school community decides that it is going to make waste reduction on campus a priority, and one of the best places to start is with lunch and snack waste. Whether the majority of students brings lunch from home or buys it at school, there's almost always room for improvement. A waste-free lunch program is a process of educating students, parents, and school staff about where our trash ends up and how we, as individuals, can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs favor the use of reusable food containers, drink containers, utensils, and napkins. They discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes and pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils.

What does a waste-free lunch look like?

A Typical American Lunch
(DISPOSABLE)

  • sandwiches sealed in plastic bags
  • fruits and vegetables in plastic bags
  • prepackaged chips, cookies, fruit bars, granola bars, cheeses, and fruit leathers
  • prepackaged yogurts, applesauces, and puddings
  • crackers, pretzels, chips, and other snack foods sealed in plastic bags
  • disposable juice boxes, juice pouchs, soda cans, water bottles, and milk cartons
  • plastic forks and spoons
  • paper napkins
  • reusable lunchboxes and disposable paper and plastic bags
A Waste-Free Lunch
(REUSABLE)

  • sandwiches and other main dishes, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and treats in a reusable lunch container
  • cloth napkins
  • stainless-steel forks and spoons
  • reusable drink containers
  • reusable lunchboxes

*With this type of lunch, lunch food items can be bought in larger quantities. The packaging can be left at home for reuse or recycling. Waste-free lunches are not only a wise environmental choice, but they are less expensive as well.

What does it cost to pack a waste-free lunch?

A Disposable Lunch
1 egg salad sandwich $1.25
1 yogurt .85

1 granola bar .45

1 apple .30
1 package of carrots and dip .65
3 plastic bags .12
1 juice pouch .35
1 plastic spoon .04
1 paper napkin .01
TOTAL $4.02
A Waste-free Lunch
1 egg salad sandwich $1.25
1 serving of yogurt .50
1 serving of granola .35
1 apple .30
1 serving of carrots and dip .25
water 0
cloth napkin 0
stainless steel spoon 0
packaging 0
TOTAL $2.65

The Bottom Line

Disposable Lunch

Waste-Free Lunch

$4.02 / day $2.65 / day
$20.10 / week $13.25 / week
$723.60 / school year $477.00 / school year


723.60 - 477.00 = $246.60 savings per school year per person