Earth week and the continuing quest for litter-less lunches

First off I would like to state, for the record, that I have nothing against schools requiring a minimal amount of litter coming into the lunchroom.

I am all on board with Eco-certification and promoting of composting, reducing waste, and recycling.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating Earth month or week or day, or spreading the message that there is too much garbage being produced everywhere.

But let me outline something here:

We live in a metropolitan city. Most of the year, the bulk of our food is purchased at grocery stores.

Almost all food is sold in packaging. Packaging often is made of plastic. Even when buying in bulk, a bag is often used to contain these items.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy two peppers. To avoid having to run to the grocery store every single day, like my family in small town Switzerland did, I buy in bulk. To buy peppers in bulk I use a bag. Or buy the pre-packaged bags.

Sometimes I buy buns or crackers which come in boxes or plastic containers. They get recycled, but they are still packaging.

Most food comes in some form of a bag or packaging. Sure, I might purchase 3 lemons without a bag, but I need at least a dozen apples and I can’t have those rolling around by themselves on the conveyor belt at the register…along with the grapes that come in a bag, and the lettuce dripping chemical water all over everything.

Then there’s the lunch box snacks. I get the big box at Costco, which not only has the box as packaging, but individual wrappers for each snack. Right? The wrappers end up as litter, and should be disposed of in garbage cans.

It seems like you can’t win the litter-less fight.

I try to pack fruit for the kids lunches. An apple or a clementine doesn’t produce litter, per se, but it does as far as the school is concerned. Hence they now use green compost bins. Composting is obviously preferred to depositing into garbage cans.

But. how many kids eat fruit for lunch? How often does that apple travel back and forth between school and home? I hate food waste more than regular waste, so I keep the apple at home where I know the kids are more likely to eat it, and pack them other stuff, stuff in wrappers.

My 9yo is in the school eco-club. They discovered a perfectly good orange thrown into the garbage (not compost) bin. And baggies of food unrecognizable due to mold. Food that was prepared by someone and not eaten and then thrown out.

Because of earth month, the newsletters from school are promoting litter-less lunches even more than usual. In fact, one day they will remove every single garbage can from the school premises to further promote litter-less lunches. The parents have been advised, several times.


The parents at home making food for their offspring to eat at school are subject to the same food they are the rest of the time. Food that comes in packaging, in plastic wraps, in disposable containers. Yes, they could take the granola bar out of the package, and put it in a reusable container, thereby reducing the supposed litter that would get thrown out at school.

But the wrapper still exists. The wrapper is now thrown out at home.

In my mind, the wrapper ends up in the same landfill no matter where it gets tossed.

Or the yogurt container, or apple sauce tub. Or the little Halloween candy wrapper…

It’s all just so maddening.

My daughter in the meantime explained to me that if she keeps her wrapper in her lunchbox and returns it home, she is classified as litter-less.

I think this is just plain dumb.

And honestly, I don’t see any difference in coming years to reduce our wasteful packaging. Unless industry changes the way they package food items, I don’t see how our little ways can make much of an impact.

What is needed here is a more efficient use of recycling the packaging that is designed for not just containing of food items, but for transporting and storing as well.

Look at gardening season just about to begin. Every mall or big box store parking lot has a section fenced off and filled with huge amounts of gardening soil, packaged in plastic bags.

You can’t win this fight, no matter how many times the schools send you messages about litter-less lunches. All you can do is be mindful of the message, and do you best with what is there.

An what is there, unfortunately, is more plastic, and more garbage.


4 thoughts on “Earth week and the continuing quest for litter-less lunches

  1. Hmmm. I have conflicting feelings about this post. 🙂 I think you’re right in that there’s an awful lot of litter out there, and I hear the stress in your post! It’s awful to hear about perfectly good food, like that orange, ending up in the garbage. We’ve done litterless lunches too and I think it’s primarily about (1) bringing some awareness to the issue for the younger generation (2) reducing the overall load of garbage at the school and the costs associated with that. Can we all collectively bring less litter to school and work? I don’t think it’s impossible to reduce it. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about as a family when the kids were little. I just never bothered to buy single serving foods. That’s all there was to it. No yogurt, or juice boxes (80% of the time!), or pudding cups or cheese strings or individually-wrapped granola bars. They got these things every once in awhile, but it was granola bars we made or crackers and cheese that came from a larger package and put in a smaller container. Most of the time they had no “dessert” in their lunch at all. And yes, there’s still garbage in that whole equation, but on the whole, I think it’s probably less garbage. And isn’t that the lesson here? That we should all create a little bit less?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish it was easier in the sense that some of the decisions made in the name of protecting the environment is actually doing little of the sort. Will the single serving yogurt container cause more, or less garbage? As long as they are available for sale they will continue to be bought (although we too often buy the larger tub and scoop it out into a thermos). It hurts me to know so much of our waste ends up in the oceans…

      We’ll just keep doing our thing and hope it will make an impact for future generations. 🙂


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