Green School Lunches to Reduce WasteDownload Audio Version
Schools of average size produce over 20 tons of waste annually. In fact, research studies in the US show that school waste accounts for close to 24 percent of the total waste Fruits, vegetables, and salads are wasted the most. Young kids produce more waste than older students.
Reasons for Food Waste
The main reason is the availability of fast or junk food in schools, including burgers, French fries, and others. Fast and processed food is also sold in student stores and vending machines. The problem is that many high, middle, and elementary schools have snack bars, canteens, school stores, and vending machines.
Green Ways to Reduce School Waste
One of the ways to do this is to create less waste. Using reusable containers and lunch (or bento) boxes reduces waste. Moreover, using reusable items is less expensive than buying lunches that are offered in disposable containers. You may also want to choose a lunch box that is made from recycled materials. There are boxes with cartoon characters for young children and stylish options for teens. And some products are lunch boxes and containers at the same time. There are compartments for fruit, crackers and biscuits and meal items such as pasta, lasagna, and sandwiches. Ask whether the item is free of substances and metals such as phthalates, lead, and bisphenol A (BPA). A stainless steel container is a great option for a lunch box because it is durable and lightweight. Some retailers also offer reusable utensils, bottles, and bowls that are environmentally friendly and BPA-free. They come in different colors and styles.
Cotton Bags, Utensils, and Other Items
There are also lunch kits that feature reusable napkins, water bottles, stainless steel containers, and lunch sacks. Don’t use plastic bags to pack sandwiches and other items. Plastic bags are convenient to use but they are harmful for the environment. More than 500 billion bags are used around the world each year, and 10 percent end up in the ocean. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to degrade. What is more, only 1 percent of the bags used are recycled. You can replace plastic with cotton bags. They are free of harmful substances and are washable. You can use them to pack sandwiches, cookies, crackers, and fruits. If you find small-sized packages and containers inconvenient, you can opt for a big bag.
When it comes to utensils, one option is to buy a bamboo set. They are handmade, polished, and finished and made from organically grown bamboo. Sets include a spoon, knife, and fork. They are reusable, durable, and safe to use by children. There are also extras such as name tags, stainless steel straws, and sport tops.
Basically, these items replace paper towels, cans, pouches, single-use cartons, foil, and plastic wraps.
Organic fruits and vegetables are more expensive, but they are healthier and better for the environment. Opt for organic, locally grown produce that is free of herbicides and pesticides. There are many health benefits, and one is that children consuming organic veggies and fruits are at a lower risk of neurological problems. Organic farming is also good for the planet and reduces soil and water pollution. Instead of chemical fertilizers, farmers use compost, manure, and other types of natural fertilizers to feed plants and soil.
You can also buy organic dairy and meat products to help reduce environmental pollution. Animals are given organic feed and are raised on certified pastures. They don’t receive hormones or antibiotics and have access to the outdoors. Organic meat is healthy for your children, and you can add it to school lunches. There are also eggs that are labeled organic. You can choose from two types – organic and 100 percent organic. The former is at least 95 percent organic while the latter is made from natural ingredients.
Some cafeterias also offer reusable silverware, napkins, and trays. They can be washed and used multiple times. Many students bring their lunch from home but studies show that 1/5 of the food gets thrown away. One way to deal with this is to use an icepack to keep the food fresh. Also ask your children to go for seconds only if they are still hungry.
Some schools also participate in programs that aim to improve the quality of cafeteria meals. The reason is that school lunches increase the risk of overweight and are linked to poor nutrition. Some schools partner with local farmers and producers and offer healthy lunches. Others maintain kitchens and organic gardens where students learn how to prepare meals and grow fruits and vegetables. Knowing where food comes from helps students to learn about different products and reduces food waste.
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