Packing a zero waste lunch!

younggirleatingherpackedlunchOh how I love this week’s “Change the World Wednesday” challenge.

There are two challenges up for grabs and I personally can’t wait to get stuck into both.

Today, however, I’m sharing my tips for packing a zero waste lunch box.Little Miss Green takes her own lunch to school every day and I’ve done my best to ensure it creates as little landfill waste as possible.

Now that I can no longer recycle empty crisp packets, it’s not completely waste free, but it’s pretty good when I think about what it could entail.


When it comes to sandwiches; I either make bread or buy it in polythene which I can reuse for sandwiches for a few days then recycle. I also have a box of paper bags on hand which can be composted after use. Fillings are usually pretty straight forward and waste free – meat and cheese is bought from a deli in my own reusable containers. Eggs come from our chickens, fish comes in steel tins which can be recycled and any salad ingredients are bought naked from my local organic shop.


On a couple of days a weeks I make pasta or rice for dinner and deliberately make too much so that lunches can be provided the following day. A portion of pasta is put into a small tuperware container and I pop a fork into Little Miss Green’s lunchbox to eat it with. Using up leftovers is a great way to fill tummies and reduce landfill.


In her ideal world the rest of Little Miss Green’s lunch would probably be a packet of crisps, some stringy cheese, drinkable yoghurt pouches and a chocolate bar. I’m afraid this is seldom a reality; in terms of cost to my pocket and her health AND the environment as all these regular daily options come with lots of non-recyclable packaging.

The reality is more like this:


Crisps are bought in large bags and decanted into a small container. I’ve figured out that trying to save the world in this way doesn’t save much in the grand scheme of things but it saves a little in terms of weight and resources being dumped in landfill. The biggest saving is in money.



Pudding is either some yogurt and fruit – again the yogurt is bought in large containers and decanted into a smaller one. I can’t remember the exact weights but this does save considerable packaging. Fortunately for me I’ve found a brand who use a type of plastic for their pots that I can recycle. You can make this even less waste by making your own yogurt and buying the milk in glass bottles.

Fruit purée

Another pudding which is great if I’m in a hurry are these organic fruit purées. You get two aluminium foil containers which are packed inside cardboard; so everything is reusable or easily recycled. We burn the cardboard and reuse these useful pots for a myriad of things before recycling. If I forget to pop a spoon in her box, Little Miss Green is happy to pull back the lid a little and suck out the contents!


Cakes and biscuits

There’s always a piece of home made cake or biscuits which I pop in a bit of aluminium foil, wrap in grease proof paper or put in some kind of bag that I want to reuse. Here’s today’s chocolate brownie!



The biggest challenge is fruit. Little Miss Green will eat fresh fruit at home but not when out and about (as you do). I buy these dried fruit leather bars because they are really handy and healthy, but the packaging is appalling:


I also buy large bags of dried bananas and decant them, but still I’m left with packaging which ends up in landfill:


The best idea is drying my own fruit – you can see just how much fruit you get in these bags when you dehydrate them yourself. This is something I need to get more efficient with because I’ve seen recipes for making your own fruit leather but not actually tried it and more often than not I buy the ready dried bananas instead of bothering to make my own.


Refillable bottle

For drinks, it’s simple – a trusty stainless steel bottle filled with filtered tap water!


I think what I’m trying to highlight most here is that even if, like me, you don’t have time to bake bread, make your own yogurt, dry your own fruit and spend all day baking you can still REDUCE the amount of landfill packaging you create when making packed lunches by swapping and reusing a few things.

8 ways to reduce packed lunch waste

  • Swap plastic clingfilm wrap for foil
  • Reuse bags you have at home – old bread bags, vegetable bags or the inners from cereal boxes
  • Bulk buy and decant – this works for foods such as yogurt, crisps or dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit comes in its own edible or compostable packaging and is perfect for packed lunches!
  • Remember to pack only what your child will eat to avoid food waste
  • Refill a bottle with water instead of buying disposable bottles
  • Take your own containers to the deli and buy meat, hummous, coleslaw etc
  • Use last night’s leftovers as today’s lunch to reduce food waste

What about you? How do you ensure your packed lunch is minimal waste?


  1. Jane on May 25, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    I used to wrap sandwiches in cling film. Now, I have some plastic food boxes (with lids)instead that are just the right size to hold a sandwich. This avoids the need to wrap a sandwich in anything. I buy sandwich fillings, etc. that come in recyclable packaging, or in no packaging at all. Also, I no longer buy pots of yoghurt, or fruit or cereal bars, but pack raw or cooked fruit instead. Any fruit peel, etc. is brought home for composting. Like you, I put filtered tap water into a steel water bottle. For hot drinks (for adults), I put hot water in a steel flask, and pack either tea leaves and infuser or tea bags. I put the tea in a small plastic food box, and used tea leaves or bags are brought home for composting.

  2. Emily on May 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    This is a very interesting read! Thank you for sharing all the great ideas. I also try hard to pack a zero-waste lunch I reuse the plastic bags that my mixed nuts or dried fruits are packaged in from my local co-op. I also switched over to loose leaf tea and use the same bulk bag when I return to buy more. Saves not only on the tea bags but also the cardboard boxes the teabags come packaged in. It’s amazing all the little things that can be done to reduce waste.

  3. Mrs Green on June 1, 2012 at 6:16 am

    @Jane: Love the sound of that sandwich box. I’ve not yet found anything like that. A friend bought me one but Little Miss Green has a good appetite and it just wasn’t big enough! Then I saw the Laptop Lunchboxes, but they cost over £20 and I thought that was a lot to eventually get lost in some school playground…

    @Emily Love the idea of reusing all those bags and great that you can buy loose leaf tea from bulk bins; sadly we don’t have anything like that here.

  4. Jane on June 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I can’t see any more food boxes in the shops that are just the right size for a sandwich either. I am not sure whether all the sizes have changed, or whether I bought the previous ones from a shop that has now closed. (I have had them for a few years.) However, before I had these boxes, I used to put sandwiches loose in larger boxes and they were fine.