As if making school lunches weren’t challenging enough (those late-night scrambles to pack healthy, varied lunches for your kids who balk at yet another ham -and-swiss on rye), now many parents have to be mindful not only of what they pack, but how they pack it.
Some school districts around the country, looking to reduce waste in school lunch programs for both economic and environmental reasons, have asked parents to switch from plastic, disposable sandwich bags to re-usable containers. Other steps towards less wasteful practices include using reusable water bottles rather than disposable plastic bottles and reusable lunch sacks instead of brown paper bags.
Districts like Portland, Oregon; Washington, DC; Alexandria, Virginia and Oakland, California are among those with eco-friendly lunch policies. Charter schools in Phoenix, Arizona and Grayslake, Illinois, for example, also have asked parents to provide reusable lunch boxes for their children.
That has translated into new products that parents may buy for back-to school supplies. Amazon offers LunchBots, a stainless steel container, and consumers can also find the LapTop Lunch Box, similar to a Japanese Bento box.
At the Container Store, sales of environmentally friendly products have increased substantially, said Mona Williams, the store’s vice-president of buying. The company has expanded their stock of these items by 50 percent, she said.
“In the marketplace, you’re seeing more of these types of environmentally friendly products,” said Williams. “There’s a groundswell of need and desire from moms to have these products. Moms want to make sure they aren’t contributing to more waste in the landfills.”
During the back-to-school season, Staples offered a lunch tote, the Yak Pak and Extreme flap lunchbox, which has compartments for reusable plastic food containers. The company also features a product line, Sustainable Earth, that says its cutlery and plates are compostable, for more eco-friendly lunches.
Some products at the Container Store include the bobble brand water bottle that comes with its own filter, snackTaxis, which are reusable sandwich bags that the manufacturer claims are BPA- , lead, and phthalate-free; PeopleTowels reusable napkins that are 100 percent organic cotton, and bento-style reusable lunch boxes.
Consumer Reports has not tested any of these products.
“In the past 12 months, this has grown phenomenally,” said Williams. “My perception is that schools’ policies have reacted to what parents are saying. These are parents who are starting their children young, with healthy food and who are saying, ‘Let’s protect the environment.’ It’s a lifestyle for these kids. I see this as a continuing trend.”