Back to School Tips for Litterless Lunches

Are you looking to take the trash out of back-to-school lunches, or scrambling for ideas about how to meet litterless lunch requirements of your school? If so, you are part of the growing movement driving the transformation to litterless lunches at both school and work. Did you know, according to one source, that on average, a child generates over 65 pounds of lunchtime trash each year?

Here are some ideas to help make the move to a successful litterless lunch lifestyle:

Zero-Waste Lunches Start with Planning

Named packed lunches on table, close-up
Jonathan Knowles/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The first step in going litterless is to do a little planning. You need food that does not come prepackaged in individual servings, as well as the reusable containers for storing those individual portions you remove from the larger container.  Start by purchasing larger sized containers of a product - applesauce, cheese, or yogurt, for example, and then portioning individual servings to place in the reusable containers.   

Getting That Reusable Lunchbag and Containers Back Home Every Afternoon

The quickest way to derail your waste-free lunch initiative is by failing to have your child bring home the empty containers every day. One important step you can take is to clearly label your child’s reusable lunch bag and reusable containers with his or her name to make sure they don’t go missing. One source recommended for labels is Mabel’s Labels ( based in Hamilton, Ontario. Design your own personalized labels that won’t come off in the washing machine or dishwasher - making them ideal for reusable lunch bag as well as reusable packaging.

Reusable Water Bottles Can Eliminate All Those Drink Boxes and Containers

It is all too common of a sight to see a school trash can heaped high with drink boxes. Single serving drink containers are a huge contributor to school trash. Instead of individual portion sized bottles or juice boxes, how about pouring the liquid into a refillable bottle? Better yet, skip the juice and stick with water, which eliminates the empty calories and any extra cleanup associated with spillage.

The Need to Have the Teacher and School on Board

Having the teacher on board for litterless lunches is a great way to ensure success. One approach teachers can take is to accumulate all of the trash during the first week of school and then display it at the end of the week. This can help serve as an estimate, multiplied by the weeks of the school year, roughly how much trash will be generated if lunch waste generation isn’t stopped. Of course, teachers can play a valuable role in shaping pupil behavior by discussing lunch choices and frequent reinforcement of successful litterless lunch ideas demonstrated by children. One approach that some teachers employ, albeit sometimes to the chagrin of parents, is to declare the classroom a litter “pack in - pack out” zone, so that if children do generate garbage, then they need to bring it back home at the end of the school day. Teachers can also help ensure that lunch bag and containers are not left behind at school. The school can also play an important role by establishing a school composting program to ensure the diversion of compostable materials from the trash.

Cloth Napkin and Wet Wipes

Another recommendation is to avoid paper towel usage by having children bring a reusable cloth napkin to school, along with a soapy, wet cloth for cleanup that is contained in a sealable container.

Choose the Right Reusable Lunchbag

Finally, it is important to choose a durable lunch bag no larger than needed. Experts also suggest a bag that is easily closed by a child, as well as one that is easy to clean. There are some interesting options, including lunch kits such as Yumbox ( ) that come with their own compartments, thus avoiding the management and loss opportunity for individual reusable containers. A bag that is large enough to store the required containers, as well as a cold pack if it is not insulated.

Lead by Example

It is one thing to have the kids establish and sustain litterless lunch habits at school, but parents and teachers alike have a crucial role to play in leading by example!

D​o you still have doubts? Please read my article about overcoming the hurdles to litterless lunch success."