Litterless lunches are becoming a thing, in Canada at least. In order to reduce waste, school boards have introduced litterless lunch policies, which encourages kids to arrive at school not with tons of paper-packaged junk food, but with home-made sandwiches wrapped in cloth or reusable waxed paper, stainless-steel lunchboxes, and drinks in thermos flasks. In Ontario, this program is a part of the the Eco-Schools Initiative, which also includes "Dim Lit Lunches" and Meatless Fridays.
"The goal of the litterless lunch is to help reduce greenhouse gases that are produced during the manufacturing and transport of all that food packaging," Heather Loney of the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, Ontario, told the National Post.
Litterless lunches also encourage healthier eating. While it's entirely possible that a time-strapped parent could rip junk food from its packaging and toss it into their kid's lunch box, once the lunchbox is in use it begs to be filled with cheaper-but-healthier homemade sandwiches and so on. "It can also help your pocketbook," says Loney. "Some of those packaged foods are not as nutritionally strong as just buying whole foods. Also, they can be more expensive."
Just about the only thing that litterless lunches don't save is time, and some parents might not even know where to start when it comes to preparing and packing a healthy, home-made lunch. That's why schools provide tips and recipes, for instance, bulk-buying things like apple sauce and yogurt and repackaging them in smaller, reusable containers. Or sending the kids off to school with hot leftovers—soups or regular meals—in thermos containers.
The savings are big, in both money and waste. Canada's North Glenmore Elementary School publishes the results of its own years-long litterless lunches program:
On average, a school-age child with a disposable lunch generates approximately 30 kg (67 lbs) of waste per school year. That means that if your child has 25 students in his/her class, they are producing 737 kg (1,625 lbs) of waste each year.
Cash-wise, parents can save over a dollar a day by sending their kid to school with a sandwich, a reusable water bottle, and something like a yogurt. According to Loney, this cuts the cost from $4 to $2.65 per day, on average, over "a Lunchables and fruit juice or something like that."
It's an interesting program and brings a certain amount of peer pressure to bear on the situation. It's pretty clear why parents send their kids to school with pre-packaged junk foods: it's easy and convenient, and most harried working parents have little time to devote to contemplating packaging. But if the norm is healthy, home-made food, then kids toting junk food might find themselves teased. That's ugly in the short term, but in the long term, it's good for everyone.
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