March 3, 2021

For School Lunches, Hold the Plastic Sandwich Bag

Sales of environmentally friendly back-to-school products are up just about everywhere. At the Container Store, the increase is 30 percent over last year for some items, said Mona Williams, the company’s vice president of buying. “We have seen a huge resurgence,” she said.

The trend makes the schools happy (much less garbage). It makes the stores happy (higher back-to-school spending). It even makes the students happy (green feels good).

Who’s not happy? The parents (what to do when the Tupperware runs out?).

“Ziplocs are the biggest misstep,” said Julie Corbett, a mother in Oakland, Calif., whose two girls attend a school with an eco-friendly lunch policy. In school years past, she said, many a morning came unhinged when the girls were sent to school with disposable sandwich bags.

“That’s when the kids have meltdowns, because they don’t want to be shamed at school,” Ms. Corbett said. “It’s a big deal.”

Schools have been adopting environmentally friendly policies for ecological and budget reasons, and retailers have been rushing to fill the newfound demand with store-front promotions and aggressive marketing. Staples has rows of eco-friendly lunch containers, like an Extreme flap lunchbox case with a compartment for plastic food boxes, and a Yak Pak lunch tote that looks like a purse.

Many of the schools are pushing waste-free lunches, where everything must be either compostable or reusable, in an effort to reduce garbage and the cost of hauling it away. Others are requiring that students bring reusable gear because even though the upfront cost is higher, it tends to be cheaper over the course of the year.

“We try to be sensitive to keeping costs down for families,” said Emily Hyde, assistant headmaster of Archway Classical Academy at Veritas, a new charter school in Phoenix that requires a reusable water bottle and lunch box for each student. “It seemed like the economical choice.”

Either way, parents can be a hard sell. “Any parent who’s trying to get their kid ready and out the door in the morning knows that it’s tough” when there are more items to deal with, said Ms. Williams, the executive at the Container Store.

Brian Greene, the principal of Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake, Ill., has resorted to buying reusable lunchboxes in bulk and selling them at cost to school families to get more of them on board. At the school’s new-parent meeting held last week, parents of returning students did a show and tell for the newcomers. One mother brought a Tupperware container that she had used for years; another brought a Rubbermaid container.

In the past, students performed skits about recycling but the parent-to-parent evangelism seemed more effective, Mr. Greene said.

“The kids are all about it,” Mr. Greene said, but with the parents, “you have to build habits.”

He added, “We don’t send notes home to parents and say, ‘Listen, this is the third time you’ve brought a Cheeto bag.’ But we help them to understand” why the school has the lunch policy.

Judith Wagner, a professor of education at Whittier College in California who directs its laboratory school for elementary and middle-school children, has also been struggling with how to get parents’ support for less wasteful lunches.

“Parents will say things like, ‘Well, I want her to have a choice, and if I put in a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a ham sandwich, she has a choice,’ ” Professor Wagner said. “And each one comes in its own separate plastic bag.”

What comes next, she said, is a hard call. “Do you go back to the parents and say, ‘Gosh, can you rethink the plastic bags and all this food?’ Or do you talk to the children, and you make the children feel guilty because they’re throwing this all away?”

Despite the difficulties, the push for eco-friendly products in school lunches seems to be working, at least judging by sales data from retailers.

Sales of paper bags and sandwich bags, which once were school lunch must-haves, are declining. Between August 2010 and August 2011, unit sales of plastic sandwich bags sold declined by 3.17 percent, while paper bags fell by 13.19 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the market research firm SymphonyIRI Group.

At the Container Store, popular items this year include Japanese bento-box-style lunch boxes, Bobble water bottles with built-in filters, reusable cotton sandwich bags called snackTaxis, and PeopleTowels, machine-washable napkins.

Ms. Corbett, the Oakland parent, said the social pressure her children felt regarding recyclable products was palpable.

Still, she says, plasticware can be a pain to clean, and is not cheap. When she thinks it is likely that her daughters will lose the containers — if, for instance, they’re going on a field trip — she uses waxed-paper sleeves, like the kind bakeries use for cookies, to hold sandwiches instead.

“It’s still a no-no because you’re still having to throw that away, but it is biodegradable, it does compost, so you’re not as guilty,” she said.

Still, Ms. Corbett said the environmental message had reached her. After she saw how much waste she could reduce by changing her lunch packaging routine, she started an eco-friendly packaging company, Ecologic.

“It created this very big awareness in our family,” Ms. Corbett said.

Article source:

Speak Your Mind