Lunchtime can be a tricky one for single-use disposable plastics. It’s all too easy to grab individually packaged treats wrapped in layers of plastic over more sustainable options. We know that cost and convenience are paramount when packing a lunchbox and neither of those should be sacrificed for a more sustainable snack. Here are our tricks and tips to make lunch on the go a bit greener.
The sarnie is undoubtedly the star of any lunchbox so it’s essential to get this one right. We recommend ditching the single-use plastic sandwich bags and clingfilm (use up any that you have first) and exchanging them for reusable tubs, beeswax wraps, or tinfoil, which can be recycled at a recycling centre if clean and scrunched into a ball. Try to reuse what you’ve already got rather than buying new unless you really need to! Unfortunately, tin foil is not currently recycled kerbside in Hampshire, so wax wraps and tubs would be preferable (check whether foil is accepted in your curbside recycling here: https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-locator). However, we would recommend foil over single-use plastic.
Soups, Stews, Pasta and Winter Warmers!
If you like to buy a take-away soup, pasta or stews for your lunch, try to avoid disposable plastic containers by taking your own hot food from home. Heat it up in a microwave in a ceramic bowl if that’s an option at work or college, or take it ready-made in a thermos flask with you – these can keep your food warm for several hours. Some of these come with a fold-up metal spoon too!
Crisp packets are a major contributor to plastic pollution and one of the more frequent items we find on beach cleans. We have found intact crisp packets on our shores that date back to the 1980s and they have a prolonged impact on our environment, breaking down into smaller and smaller plastic fragments. In order to reduce your plastic footprint, we recommend buying large sharing bags or crisps to decant into reusable pots or tubs. This is also cost-effective as it is usually cheaper than buying multipacks. These big bags can then be taken to any of the big supermarkets to go in with soft plastic recycling, or some of the smaller ‘local’ chains do this too. Decanting from larger packs also works with other items such as yoghurt, cheese, and crackers.
Cut down your plastic consumption by buying whole, and preferably loose fruit instead of their pre-portioned, plastic-wrapped counterparts. You can chop them up and put them in Tupperware boxes or any small storage boxes you already have at home.
Try and include any snacks that are packaged in cardboard or paper rather than plastic when filling your lunch box. Cardboard will biodegrade naturally within weeks, whereas plastic can remain unscathed for hundreds of years. Raisins are a great example of a sustainably packaged lunchbox snack, but you can pop here to get ideas for more plastic-free snacks: https://moralfibres.co.uk/zero-waste-snack-ideas/
If you usually pack a cake, sweet, or chocolate bar individually wrapped in plastic, have no fear, you can keep your sweet treat and be sustainable too! Try making cakes at home or buying a large cake you can portion yourself. This could be a great weekend activity if you have kids, it’s a great way to teach cooking skills and the importance of sustainability all in one go! Plastic-free sweeties and chocolate ideas also include Rolos, Divine or Montezumas chocolate, Starburst, Smarties, Fruit Pastilles, Refreshers, and Double Dips – other brands are available! Most refill shops sell chocolate-covered peanuts, raisins and other treats.
This is one of the easiest and simplest swaps you can make. Reusable bottles and coffee cups are the way forward. Single-use plastic bottles take anywhere between 500 and 1000 years to decompose, and even the seemingly paper coffee cup is actually lined with plastic and can take many years to break down. And it’s important to remember that when we say ‘break down’, we actually mean ‘break up’ – plastics break up into smaller and smaller pieces but are still always there – and so far, we still don’t know the real impact of this pollution. It is better for both our planet and your purse strings to reuse and refill a reusable bottle.
If you like a fizzy drink, try to get hold of a Soda Stream or similar fizzy drinks maker for home. You can actually then put any fizzy drinks you make into a reusable bottle (like a Chillys or SHO bottle) and they will stay sparkly!
Avoid the need to have to grab disposable cutlery if you are buying lunch on the go by keeping a reusable set in your bag. This can be as simple as just grabbing some metal cutlery from home, or you can buy roll-up sets like the photo below. We find so many bits of disposable plastic cutlery on our beach cleans so we would love more people to avoid these items if possible!
We hope this guide has helped you feel more confident to make sustainable swaps to create a
plastic-free lunch box. Feel free to share your greener lunch on the go on social media and tag us
@finalstrawfoundation, we’d love to see your creations. Bon Appetit!