When you add up the aluminum foil you used to wrap your sandwich, the yogurt you brought for dessert, and the can of soda you washed it all down with, it starts to become apparent that lunch is the most wasteful meal of the day. If you’re ever in doubt of this, take a look at your office’s trash bins around 2 o’clock.
For all of the awareness on food waste, it’s an issue that’s not getting any better. A 2014 Los Angeles Times piece reported that the city’s public school system tosses $100,000 worth of food a day. The good news is that there are easy solutions to curbing your lunch waste. Here are eight ways to reduce your lunch waste — from making it, to packing it, and eating it:
Making Your Lunch
1. Make your own salad dressing: Instead of relying on plastic bottles of dressing, or even the aluminum single-serving packets, make it yourself. Using freshly squeezed lemon juice — from a real lemon — and olive oil and vinegar from bulk containers will cut down on the number of bottles you toss later.
2. Make the foods that come pre-wrapped: Foods like granola bars, cookies, and chips often come pre-wrapped so that every time you eat one, you’re wasting plastic or aluminum. Instead, make your own whenever possible and wrap them in rinsable Bee’s Wrap or cloth.
When You’re Packing Your Lunch
3. This may sound like a no-brainer, but use reusable containers: If you love sparkling water, invest in a sparkling water machine and bring the reusable bottle to work every day. If you eat yogurt, reduce your footprint by purchasing a bulk container of your favorite, then pack single servings in reusable containers every day (or, even better, make your own!). And if you bring a sandwich every day, wrap it in a cloth napkin to transport it, or invest in a reusable sandwich carrier.
4. Don’t over-pack: Packaging aside, the next greatest cause of lunch-related waste is not eating it. If you pack lunch, make sure there’s a way to bring home your leftovers — or pack an amount you know you’ll be able to eat.
5. Bring your own napkin: Don’t use your office’s stash of paper towels; instead pack a cloth napkin in your lunchbox. You can use it every day, then throw it in with your wash at the end of the week. And if your office only has plastic utensils, BYOFork!
6. Use an ice pack: If your commute was long and hot, you may get to work and find that your ham sandwich doesn’t smell so good. Avoid this problem — and avoid tossing your lunch for fear of safety — by packing it with a cold pack.
7. Bring your lunch in a reusable bag: Ditch the brown bag. Either upcycle an old canvas tote or, better yet, use a lunchbox you can keep for years.
At the Office
8. The easiest way to avoid waste at lunch is to eat your lunch! If you brought an orange and find that it’s lost its appeal to you after that double-decker sandwich, ask around to see if anyone else wants it, or save it for tomorrow. There’s no reason edible food should make its way into the waste bin.
And if that doesn’t get you saving food — consider the money you’ll save: Last year, about $1 trillion worth of food was wasted, which amounts to thousands of dollars per year per American family. Just think of all the trips — and reusable sandwich bags — you could buy with that.