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A (Better) Disposable Lunch: Say No to the Baggie

Our family uses waste free lunch systems (LunchSense and Laptop Lunches). We LOVE our lunch containers as much as we love the food inside!

Today, my 6 year old is off on a field trip to watch a play. The children have been instructed (through numerous notes and voice reminders) to bring a THROW AWAY LUNCH. This goes against every grain in my body (and mind). I was a parent chaperone for the trip until it was canceled due to snow. On the original date, I showed up with both our lunches packed inside one lunch box. I figured the throw away bag didn’t pertain to the Mama who was keeping tabs on it.

(Photo by Rafal Fabrykiewicz at Dreamstime under RF-LL)

Since I couldn’t go today, I had to pack a toss away lunch. The teachers (and I understand) do not want to be responsible for 75 lunch boxes at a public park and on the bus (though they told our children that it was okay to bring a DS, hmmmm… go ahead and bring a $200 electronic, but don’t bring a lunch box).

How can you create a disposable lunch sans baggies (I’m-plastic-I-stay-in-the-landfill-for-10-lifetimes)? That is a challenge I’m still pondering as I sit here typing. Here’s the tips I’ve come up with so far. Please feel free to share your ideas!

  • Use a paper bag (preferably a recycled one). Using a recycled plastic baggie isn’t a good idea because it will still end up in the landfill, it’s better if you return them to store recycling bins.
  • Wrap sandwiches in paper and secure with a (wooden) toothpick or piece of twine/string.
  • Send lots of naturally packaged foods (apples, oranges, bananas).
  • For a beverage send a paper/cardboard carton that will break down (juice pouches don’t break down). If recycling facilities are available, then send a small aluminum can.
  • Make small pouches or envelopes for crackers, raisins, and other small foods using paper or a napkin.
  • Only send non-refrigerated foods because the lunch cannot be kept cold. Avoid lunch meats, eggs, mayo, and dairy. Stick with sandwiches made from nut butters (or sun butter).
  • Send only as much as your child consumes to avoid waste.

If you must make a throw away lunch, stick to packaging that will break down quickly versus sitting in the landfill for hundreds of years. Encourage your child to look for recycling receptacles and teach them how to recycle (fold up the paper bag, separate out food, fold don’t wad wrapping, empty beverage remnants).


  1. An alternative to the recycled paper you mention for a throw-away lunch might be cloth baggies such as those made and sold by gnomeclothes on etsy: http://www.gnomeclothes.etsy.com (a member of the Eco Etsy Street Team). After eating their lunch, the reusable cloth bags can be shaken out and folded up and put in a coat pocket. I would have a hard time with it if the teachers doing the trip would object to that.

  2. I used to live in a country where small sandwich plastic bags were uncommon, sandwiches were usually made in a hot dog bun like bread and then wrapped in recycled quality paper, with the ends twisted, like a hard candy wrapper.

  3. I like the wrap-n-mats and the happy sacks sandwich bags…but it still couldn’t be used on days when kids need a toss away lunch. I would think someone (mom, dad, teacher) could throw it in a backpack or handbag when the kids were done with them and give them back at the end of the day. That might be wishful thinking though.

  4. We have started using – or reusing i should say – multi-tiered stainless steel food containers. The are great as they can be put through the dishwasher or just used to hold my snack stash at work of nuts and chocolate;-) And the whole set locks together. We found our at Happy Tiffin, http://happytiffin.com It’s a good alternative to plasticware.

  5. growing up we always wrapped our sandwiches & other things that needed wrapping in wax paper. didn’t usually need any tape to keep sealed. used either our metal lunch boxes or recycled paper bag as the container.

    what’s a “DS” mentioned in the article?

    what’s a “sun butter” mentioned in the article?


  6. Barry- A DS, is a Nintendo portable, handheld gaming system. Sun butter is a peanut butter like spread made from sunflower seeds for those with nut and soy allergies (and it tastes better than soynut butter.)

    Our school is firm on their 100% toss out lunches for field trips. It makes things difficult, but luckily we only have to deal with this once or twice a year (per kid). This round the kiddos ended up eating on the bus due to snow/cold weather, so lunch boxes probably would have worked out okay.

  7. thanks jamie. i know of the nintendo ds, but didn’t recognize just the letters ‘ds’.

    i like peanut & soynut butters, have tried almond butter, know of other nut butters, but ‘sun butter’ is new to me. i’ll look for it at my local health food store on my next visit.

  8. I like the wax paper envelope bags made for sandwiches that you get at Whole Foods. You can toss them in the compost bin (which our school has) or the trash if needed as the wax paper is biodegradable.

    I also pack my son’s lunch in an organic cotton lunch bag from Hero Bags – machine washable and made in the USA!

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