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Keepers of the Earth: Starting the school year with waste-free lunches


This week saw the return to school for most Kahnawa’kehró:non students. With that means the hunt for school supplies, fresh clothes and a trendy backpack.

And if you’re one of those parents who still sends your child to school with a homemade lunch, that also means a new lunch bag and some easy, pre-packaged edibles.

Introducing waste-free lunches:

With more and more people becoming eco-conscious, it’s clear why convenience items like your child’s lunchtime items would be a concern.

If you look at an average student’s lunch, here’s what you might see being tossed in the garbage afterwards: a juice box, straw, plastic wrapper, yogurt container, plastic spoon, plastic sandwich bag and various snack wrappers or containers.

And that’s just one day, for one child.

Now imagine that, multiplied by as many children that are in your child’s school (providing they bring a lunch), then multiply that by the school days in just a single academic year. Yikes!

And with the lack of recycling options in most school cafeterias, this mass of garbage is overflowing in landfills or being forced into incinerators, further polluting our air.

According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, the typical student’s lunch produces roughly 30 kg (66 lbs) of waste each school year, with the average school generating a staggering 8,500 kg (18,700 lbs) of lunchtime waste each school year.

While that stat may come from our neighbours to the west, it definitely gives a good idea of the impact our children’s lunch-related waste is having on our environment.

Waste-free lunches imply just that: avoiding any waste from your lunch!

How to be waste-free:

Being waste-free means avoiding the following: any and all convenience items (i.e. mini yogurts, snack packs, apple sauce or Jell-O cups, pre-packaged lunches, etc.), single-use juice boxes and drink containers, plastic cutlery, plastic baggies, paper napkins, Styrofoam, and plastic and foil wrap.

Instead, look for earth-friendly, BPA and phthalate-free, reusable items such as Bento-style lunch kits (popular Japanese-inspired meal boxes), mini cutlery sets, cloth napkins, water bottles, thermoses, washable fabric snack bags, and various small containers (call that Tupperware lady!).

Options are endless in styles, colours and uses, and your kids will enjoy creating their own unique set.

Reap the benefits!

Beyond the obvious environmental benefits of moving to waste-free lunches, there are several others that you will appreciate after making the switch.

The first of which will be to your family’s bottom line. Sure, there will be an initial small investment into your reusables, but it should be a one-time cost if you buy quality items (so avoid the dollar store).

In the long-run however, prepackaged items are often more expensive than bulk goods (i.e. a package of individual-sized yogurts versus a larger tub). You (and the earth) are paying for the loads of extra plastic and foil packaging for food you could easily separate into reusable containers at home.

Secondly, you can enjoy actually knowing what’s going into your child’s lunch. Convenience items can be full of preservatives for a longer shelf life and some of their packaging can actually contain harmful ingredients like phthalates (exposure can result in many health conditions including as reproductive issues).

Lastly, even if you are short on time, you can work with your child to prepare his/her own lunch which means extra time for bonding and talking, as well as less food waste because they will be part of making the food they actually want to eat.

Look to websites like Pinterest to get ideas that will take you throughout the year and beyond the cold-cut sandwich.

If at the end of it all your child still comes home with food scraps, you could add it to your compost (great family project!) or encourage their school to start one.

Waste-free lunches are another way to invest in the health and happiness of your child, yourself, your wallet and our Mother Earth.

Here’s to wishing you all a happy (and green) school year ahead

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Onawa has 10 years of experience working with youth and adults in the fields of education and career counselling. Since 2013, she has been working as an Employment & Training Counsellor with Tewatohnhi’saktha. Her skills and interests are multi-disciplinary; also working as the Art Integration Specialist for the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre’s Expansion & Renovation Project and as an environmental columnist for The Eastern Door. She is committed to the betterment of her community on many fronts: education, labour force, economic welfare, preservation of language and culture, and the environment, and aims to be part of the helping profession for many years to come.


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