A Deep Dive into Our Kids' Lunchboxes

Plastic-free lunches - great idea, right? 

Friends of the Earth is supporting a campaign launched by an awesome young person named Maya who found the amount of plastic packaging in kids' lunches disturbing, so she did some research and calculated that not only could 21 single-use plastic products be eliminated by a family of three lunch-packers in one day - that family could also save more than $700/year by buying in bulk and using reusable containers (here's Maya's study).

Friends of the Earth is sharing Maya's findings and encouraging schools across Canada to participate in its Plastic-Free Lunch Campaign. The website includes pretty compelling statistics on plastic waste in Canada, tips for packing a plastic-free lunch and resources for raising awareness about the issue. 

Reducing 4,656 pieces of single-use plastic over a year is a great goal for a family, and saving $700 is good news with food prices as high as they are. And we can always use a reminder about how making different choices at the grocery store can have a big impact on pollution, waste, the environment, and our finances.

Still, if you're a parent (or a kid) packing lunches and feeling just the slightest trace of frustration at the thought of one more way you get to feel guilty about what you're putting in there, you are not alone. And if you find yourself in desperation taking off the wrappers at home to meet school requirements and asking yourself "what's the point?" you're not alone either.

Here's how I've been wrestling with putting plastic-free lunches into the bigger picture. 

  • Let's start with some basics
    • we love our kids
    • we want them to have food that keeps them well
    • we want them to live in a world that is healthy and thriving
  • From there, let's acknowledge that food choices are limited by a family's income, location, transportation options, time, dietary restrictions, and cultural context. 
  • And on a broader level, our consumer choices are set within an economic system that relies on people to buy more, not less. Single-use plastic and single-portion packaging encourages waste, which in turn leads to more purchasing. If you have 5-6 minutes, this brief history of our plastic addiction video is pretty enlightening. 

So where does this leave us, as parents (and kids) facing limited options and knowing how damaging plastics are for the environment? Plastic-free lunches are an important step for families that can manage them. Let's not make them a source of additional guilt for parents, though, or a barrier to being involved and taking action on the systemic issues contributing to our over-use of plastic. It's not an issue that's up to parents alone to solve. 

Below is a visual version I came up with to help myself put this in context! Actions can be individual and collective; they can involve a little effort or more intensive coordination. Every action is part of the picture and helps us move to a healthier alternative, for our kids and the planet.  

If this sparks ideas for you, please add a comment at the bottom of this post! You can also reach our community of parents at [email protected] 

One more thing I'd like to acknowledge is the need for a national school nutrition program across Canada - we are the only G7 country without one even though the need and the benefits are clear. There is federal support as well as a coalition leading the call for a community-led, locally-sourced, nutritious and sustainable program. But no funding has yet been dedicated to making it a reality. You can find out more about advocating for a national school nutrition program here


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