If you have ever been to a school cafeteria after lunchtime or glanced over at a Styrofoam filled trashcan in front of your favorite local eatery, you know how waste intensive our midday eating habits can be. With Waimanalo Gulch and other landfills reaching their capacity, it is time for Hawai'i to adopt a cleaner, greener way of fueling up.
Consider the concept of the waste-free lunch. A waste-free lunch is prepared and served without disposable packaging or food waste. It is successfully achieved through the use of reusable water bottles, cloth napkins, stainless steal cutlery and lunch containers like bento box sets which promote appropriate portioning to lessen food waste while simultaneously scrapping the need for plastic baggies, plastic wrap or tin foil. Buying in bulk—nuts, beans and rice—also reduces the amount of trash entering the waste stream. Bulk items can be purchased and prepared regularly without all the excess packaging.
Waste-free lunches can also effectively reduce the net food waste of a household, as they allow families to use leftovers before they go bad. Susan Yuen, local bento box guru and the author of Hawai'i's Bento Box Cookbook, has turned waste-free lunches into an art form. "Whenever I make a bento I always consider what I have already in my fridge," explains Yuen. "I try to utilize everything, even if it is scraps. For instance, scraps like cheese get put aside for omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas. Things like little bears, flowers or fun pick decorations are also an effective use of food scraps and give my daughter something fun to look forward to at lunch."
Beyond the obvious benefits to the Earth, waste-free lunches are also better for our personal health as they encourage the use of fresh fruits and veggies over the pre-packaged and heavily processed products typically marketed as convenient lunchtime components. Indeed, just as our landfills have expanded, so have our waistlines and the importance of reintroducing our families to healthy foods cannot be understated.
All over the U.S., the concept of the waste-free lunch is gaining momentum. Entire schools have adopted waste-free lunch programs, using it as an effective way to educate future generations on leading more sustainable lifestyles. Amy Hammert of Laptop Lunches, an international bento-ware resource, writes, "If every child attending elementary school packed a waste-free lunch, billions of pounds of lunch waste could be diverted from the waste stream. That's a lot of trash and that translates into potentially huge savings for our families, our schools and our environment."