Today, I had to do something that I hate.
I had to pack a lunch for my daughter’s field trip to go see Peter Pan on stage. Now, I regularly pack lunch for my kids to take to school. I put everything in cute re-usable sacks and wraps and containers with real utensils and sometimes even a cloth napkin. But today, I had to pack everything knowing that it would all get thrown away the moment the food was consumed.
I wrapped up the steamed green beans, her fish sticks, and homemade, organic, puffed rice treat, all into neat, wax paper packets and then inside a recycled paper bag autographed by Mommy with my daughter’s name in a heart surrounded by flowers. Now, I must have a million plastic zip-top bags that I could use because I have the cast-off bags from my children’s school friends’ lunches of yore, but I cannot have my kid throw plastic into the trash.
I am that mom, I admit it.
When I go on the field trips, I walk around and tell the children to give me their zipper bags when they are done eating. I just cannot bear to see all that plastic thrown in the bin after the solitary job of transporting half a dozen rainbow goldfish for two hours has been accomplished. I see kids with a gallon- size bag, filled with a sandwich-size bag with a sandwich, and several assorted snack- size bags for the cherries and the cheese and the sunflower seeds. They have five plastic bags for one child’s lunch that will take roughly somewhere between 500 years and never to decompose.
Nope. I cannot do it! I have been going on field trips now for six years and I always come home with a giant stash of plastic that I wash out and reuse until they are falling apart and then they get recycled at my local grocery store that recycles clean, dry plastic bags and wrappers of all sorts. (Check out your stores- they probably have it too.)
Packing a lunch for our kids has implications. First of all, for it to truly qualify as no-waste they need to actually eat it. That right there is usually the biggest waste that I see. Kids eat the cookies, then the applesauce, pop open the squeezie bag of juicy drink and then declare that they are stuffed and toss the actual, untouched lunch right into the trash. In the pristine plastic bag, of course.
I know it is a challenge to get the kids to eat what they are given, but therein lies the solution: have them do the lunch shopping with you. If they help to choose it, they are much more likely to eat it.
We have all seen those cute, little washable lunch containers that can be used to tote the food, yet, if your kids are as busy as mine, inevitably they leave them at school, never to be seen again. No-waste also implies that you are not wasting your money on adorable lunch mates that disappear after one use.
My solution: impose a fine.
Yep, I sure do. A buck a day for the days that it goes missing, not longer than a week. After one time of losing his lunch, my otherwise forgetful son has become remarkably adept at remembering.
For the times when I just cannot expect the lunch box to make it, like the all-day field trip to the zoo, I keep the small paper bags that come from the cute boutiques where we shop for hair accessories or cosmetics and we re-use the heck out of them. (In a pinch, you could even re-use the plastic bags that surround the bread loaves, but those are not very pretty even if they are serviceable. I do still try to strike the balance between re-using for conservation and over-the-line, bag- lady conservation. )
I have even found terrific wax paper bags that will keep the food fresh for the short window of time needed between the bus and the lunch break. They decompose quicker than plastic to be sure, and can even go into your composter if you can get your kids to bring it home.
I compel my children to bring everything home after lunch so that I can recycle and/or wash everything. The other hidden benefit, however, is that I also get to to be assured that my no-waste lunch was actually consumed, and was in fact, not wasted.