How to Pack a Zero-Waste Lunch

Take a look around your company’s break room or a school cafeteria and it’s hard to miss the waste happening all over. Brown paper bags, plastic zipper bags, soda cans, half-eaten food, and plastic silverware all pile up in the trash bin  — adding to the approximately 254 million tons of trash in the United States each year. So, what can you do? Minimizing your waste during your on-the-go lunches is a lot easier than people think. A few small steps easily add up to make a big impact. Not to mention, these eco-friendly practices are generally healthier and more economical than eating out and less-sustainable alternatives. Let’s take a look at how to pack a zero-waste lunch to get you started on the right track.  

Step 1: Plan & prepare 

Preparation is key to success when it comes to packing more sustainable lunches. Going zero waste often takes more planning and intentionality to figure out where to shop, what to bring with you, and what meals you want to cook. Here are some tips. 

  • Take some time to write out a meal plan and shopping list. This will help you avoid buying a lot of pre-packaged foods, making multiple trips to the store, and temptations from nearby fast food and delivery options — all of which generate a lot of waste.

  • Plan a time to prep your food. Take an afternoon or evening to roast a big batch of your favorite vegetables or prep all of your go-to salad toppings to make packing your lunches during the week even easier.
  • When planning your meals, consider some vegan and vegetarian options. In general, meat and dairy have been noted to have higher environmental impact than plant-based foods.
  • We recommend shopping on a weekly basis. Zero-waste meal plans tend to feature fresh fruits and vegetables, so you want to make sure you get the freshest produce items available. 

Step 2: Shop 

Once you’ve got your meal plan and shopping list in hand, you’re ready to shop. A zero-waste grocery shopping routine is a little different, so here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Think local. The more food you can buy locally, the better, as it reduces waste from transportation and packaging. We recommend taking note of when local farmer's markets and produce stands are open and adjust your shopping schedule accordingly. You could also join a local CSA (community supported agriculture) program to get seasonal produce directly from local farmers.    
  • Bring your own bags or totes. This is a simple way to reduce waste from grocery store plastic bags — many of which end up in landfills and waterways. As an added bonus, cloth shopping bags are more durable (no more ripping plastic and paper bags!) and many grocery stores offer a discount to customers who use them. Keep your bags in the car so you’re never without them!
  • Buy in bulk. Skip individually wrapped items and buy in bulk as much as possible to eliminate waste from packaging. Many grocery stores and markets have bulk sections for nuts, dried fruits, granola, and other cereals. You can also buy larger quantities of almost everything and repackage them on your own in a more eco-friendly manner later.  

Step #3: Pack your lunch. 

Now comes the fun part — you actually get to make your lunch! Of course, you want to eliminate as much disposable foodware as possible from your lunchbox. Here are a few tips for minimizing plastic during the cooking and packing process. 

  • Invest in reusable food containers. There are tons of benefits to investing in reusable food containers, one of which is that they help eliminate waste. Find an eco-friendly food container that will keep your food fresh and warm throughout the day — like Piknik’s thermal food containers
  • Use cloth napkins. Rather than throwing away paper napkins or paper towels, cloth napkins are small enough to fit in almost any lunch container or bag and can easily be washed and reused. 
  • Pack reusable silverware. Skip the plastic silverware and grab some from home. Even better, consider Piknik’s eco-friendly and sustainable bamboo cutlery for on-the-go meals. A carrying case is great for storing the utensils in your bag and easily packing them in and out. 
  • Bring a reusable water bottle. Skip the plastic water bottles and invest in reusable bottles that you can refill throughout the day.
  • Bring a mug or travel mug if you need a pick-me-up during the day. They’re easy to wash and you can avoid styrofoam or paper cups when you want to take advantage of the coffee machine at the office. 

Step # 4. Reuse items and compost leftovers

The general rule with sustainable lunches is that anything you pack in, you should pack out — that includes leftovers and any reusable items you brought with you. 

  • Rather than throwing peels and food scraps away, bring them home and put them in a compost bin. 
  • Wash your containers and cutlery to reuse for tomorrow’s lunch. 

Connect with us!

Here at Piknik, we’re all about sustainable lunches and on-the-go meals. Keep an eye on our blog and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest as we share some of our favorite recipes and sustainable tips. If you’re looking for great eco-friendly containers to start moving toward zero-waste lunches, we’ve got you covered there too! 

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