Waste Management

Your guide to a zero-waste lunch box

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Having a zero-waste lunchbox means no waste left after consuming your lunch. If you do have waste, it is 100% compostable or recyclable. The main idea of zero waste is to ensure leftover plastics won’t reach landfill or contribute to plastic pollution.

Find out more about the damage caused by single-use plastics commonly found in lunchboxes and learn how to create a plastic-free lunch box.

Consumers and convenience

Consumer convenience has grown throughout the last few years, with your favourite products now available in food-to-go style packaging. Some of these products are mini versions of the original, individually wrapped and ready to eat. Porridge pots, crisps and even cheese come in plastic packaging and are ready to pop into a lunchbox with no preparation. Sadly, these cheap and convenient snacks come with a heavy price tag of polluting the planet.

Today. We’ve become a society that relies on the convenience of single-use plastic. Why brew your coffee when you can go down the street and get a to-go cup? Why waste time preparing breakfast on a busy day when you can pick up a plastic-wrapped protein bar? Plastic waste is out of control due to a rise in consumer convenience and a lack of regulation on food and drink companies.

The impact of plastic pollution

Plastic’s harmful impact doesn’t just stop at the pollution stage — producing plastic is incredibly resource-intensive and environmentally harmful. Plastic emits greenhouse gasses at every stage of its life cycle, caused by drilling to source the materials and production to break it down. One way of eliminating plastic is by incinerating it, which pollutes the air with toxic chemicals and creates a new host of climate concerns.

The over-exploitation of the planet’s resources through how we consume food and create products needs to change. Wrap, a climate action organization, believes we can only change 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by adjusting how we make and consume foods, as 30% of GHG comes from food production.

The only real solution to reducing plastic use is for world governments, businesses, and all citizens to pull together in the same direction. Whether it’s burning it, putting it into a landfill, or shipping it off to some other country, it’s all problematic. Sadly, our fight against climate change and plastic pollution has reached a point of no return.

Harmful to marine life

We currently produce around 141 million tons of plastic packaging annually, and our convenient plastic packaging habits hugely impact animals living in the oceans. For example, The University of Exeter conducted a study and discovered that 102 turtles all had microplastic in their guts.

Plastics can affect marine species in many ways, from entanglement and injury to ingestion and toxic contamination.

The main problem with single-use plastics, snacks, and crisp packaging is that this plastic does not completely break down. Instead, plastic breaks up into microplastics, leaving behind tiny pieces of plastic polluting the planet. In fact, around a third of all plastic packaging on the global market leaks from collection systems, polluting the environment.

To help tackle this issue, The Ocean Cleanup crew have launched System 002, also known as ‘Jenny’, to help remove plastic from the ocean. This technology is a large-scale cleanup system to help cut down our plastic pollution.

Jenny works by having two boats drag a tensioned, 800-meter-long artificial coastline through ocean areas where plastic has accumulated. It then collects the plastic into a net and is brought to shore for sorting and recycling. Jenny has an average catch of 1000 kg of plastic per 24 hours. The organization hopes this will help reduce the amount of plastic floating in our oceans and make consumers think twice before making a purchase.

Environmental impacts of crisp and snack packaging

The main problem with food packaging is its creation. Each form of packaging uses large amounts of non-renewable sources such as energy, water, chemicals, petroleum and minerals, wood, and fibres. Manufacturing also often generates air emissions, including greenhouse gases, resulting in wastewater and sludge containing toxic contaminants.

Crisps have existed as a great snack since 1817. However, retailers didn’t always sell them in handy sealed packets. This idea came around in the 1920s, and Laura Scudder in the US came up with selling portions of crisps in waxed paper bags. The problem with these bags is that they were not air-tight, meaning the crisps had a limited shelf life before going stale. Since the 1950s, when packaging machines and materials were formed and mass production began, crisps have been manufactured with plastic bag packaging.

A few years after mass production began, the convenience of snacking was re-defined. The creation of Lunchables was a game-changer. This small ‘sandwich’ sized food was invented in 1988 packaged into sealed plastic and divided trays, offering a convenient portable snack or meal.

In the UK, we eat more crisps than the rest of Europe combined — around 6 billion packets a year. Sadly, today’s crisp bags and convenient snack packaging is aluminium-coated using polypropylene (PP) or polyethene (PET), which is similar to the material used to create Christmas tinsel and helium balloons (which are very bad for the planet).

Once a crisp packet fulfils its singular purpose, it is discarded and either buried in a landfill or becomes litter carried by wind and water into the environment.

What is Terracycle UK?

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TerraCycle is a recycling scheme which allows consumers to recycle things that local recycling plants wouldn’t usually accept. TerraCycle is now starting to implement its logo and collab with many big brands and popular UK supermarkets.

TerraCycle offers corporate opportunities for supermarkets and large organisations to show their support in helping the planet. Some supermarkets have a collection point inside for packaging to be returned and turned into something new to help prevent packaging from rotting on earth for 500 years.

TerraCycle has partnered with brands such as Warburtons and Nestle, and products manufactured by these brands all carry the TerraCycle logo. Consumers will see this and can save the packaging and return this to their local Terracycle Collection point. Offering options to recycle this harmful plastic is something a lot of brands are very keen to do. To further your zero-waste lifestyle, you can also recycle your plastic haircare products with TerraCycle.

Zero waste snack ideas for lunch boxes

Back-to-school (or work) lunchboxes are hard enough to stock for you or your children. In a world of convenience, it can all feel a little too much when also aiming to reduce plastic waste.

There are choices for both healthy and not-so-healthy lunchbox options. Sadly, most convenient options come wrapped in plastic packaging.

The main tip is to avoid wrappers and packaging where you can and opt for food that doesn’t contribute to plastic waste. Swap for bamboo lunchboxes or wax wraps to store your lunch. You can also purchase loose fruit and veg from your local supermarket or organic stall to cut out waste.

If you are struggling with packed lunch ideas, look at your food palette and decide what kind of things you enjoy the most. Whether you prefer savoury or sweet, you can find inspiration for your favourite zero-waste snacks below.

Pre-made savoury meals

  • Pasta and rice salads
  • Mini pizzas (make a batch and freeze them individually)
  • Slices of quiche
  • Soup (perfect when the weather starts to get colder)

Plastic-free snacks

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Rice crackers
  • Granola
  • Popcorn

If you enjoy sweets and chocolate over fruit and veg, the good news is you do not have to rule out sweets completely.

Plastic-free sweet snacks

  • Flapjack
  • Muffins
  • Biscuits
  • Fruit (either whole or chopped into a fruit salad)

All these suggestions can be purchased without excessive plastic packaging and damage to the planet, making a positive change. Going zero waste has excellent personal benefits, such as helping you eat healthier and saving you money. More importantly, it’s much kinder on the planet.

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