Brown bagging without the bag

For School Lunches, Hold the Plastic Sandwich Bag, writes the New York Times. Some schools are requiring waste-free lunches — everything must be edible, compostable or reusable — to cut down on garbage and promote “green” values.

Brown baggers are supposed to buy neoprene lunch bags; plastic containers are replacing plastic sandwich bags. Aluminum water bottles are in; plastic throwaways are 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.”

At the very least, it’s a first-world problem.

Judith Wagner, a Whittier College education professor, is trying to persuade parents at the lab school to pack 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?”

Forget about the plastic bags. Who packs a throwaway sandwich so little Emma can have a choice at noon instead of making up her mind at 7 am?

Sales of paper bags and sandwich bags are declining. Retailers offer a host of eco-friendly lunch containers.

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.

In Oakland, Sally Corbett complains that plastic containers require cleaning and aren’t cheap, especially if they get lost.  For field trips, she packs sandwiches in waxpaper. “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.

It’s a religion, writes Andrew Stuttaford.


About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Is it a religion? Or is it a matter of social status signifying? Can you actually do this stuff without telling your friends and acquaintances how green you are, and how much greener you are than they are?

  2. Reading that, I want to go out and buy about a carload of plastic sandwich bags. But, of course, that would get me arrested as a potential drug dealer. Sigh. In modern America you just can’t win.

    It was easier when we were kids: you could show your superior social status by just letting your hair grow long…

  3. If the eco-weenies are coming down on the kids who have sandwiches in disposable wrappers, isn’t that a form of bullying? Where’s the hue and cry?

    Or is green bullying the only acceptable form of bullying?

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I prefer that my used plastic go to the landfill, where we can mine it and recycle it if we ever run out of cheap easy petroleum. Let other nations recycle– then, when world plastic supplies get low, we can sell them our “mined” plastic at inflated rates.

    I mean seriously– it’s not like we don’t know where the landfills are! I think we should rename them the “National Strategic Plastic and Aluminum Reserves.” Don’t you feel better now?

  5. So let me get this straight:

    Kid’s lunches become unsafe when they sit out at room temperature. But, they also have to be eco-friendly. And balanced, with enough veggies and whole grains to satisfy the food police. And you can’t bring peanut butter because of allergy concerns.

    Damn. I’m glad I never had kids. It must be exhausting trying to raise one.

  6. It’s always the moms of only a single child who are all “gung ho” about these kinds of policies. Sure, it’s not that much extra laundry or dishwashing if you’re just having to do it for one child. But it really starts adding up when you have to do it for 3 or more children. I’d rather just purchase a carbon offset and keep on using disposables…

  7. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I have no problem with people voluntarily doing the “eco-friendly” thing, ie. separate recycling bins, reusable lunch bags, non-plastic bottles, etc. We should be good stewards of our environment and teach that to our children. However, the Left (which pervades all levels of education) has a totalitarian bent–how soon until school districts mandate the policy of “No Ziploc Plastic Bags”?(and make students feel guilty about bringing them?) The Left doesn’t know when to stop, because “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. That’s what our Founders most feared–absolute State power, and why limited government is the hallmark of our Constitution. I speak as a no-longer-closeted conservative (classic liberal) elementary school teacher.

  8. Being the mother of an only child… this kind of stuff drove me crazy too! I didn’t mind the lunch box and the water bottle. But dang it, I draw the line at ziplocs! I did use the “tupperware” stuff when it worked better, but sometimes a ziploc works better. And yes, *gasp* I used paper towels too! Thankfully the school wasn’t too strict on the Greeny scale. Now I homeschool, and we make a real lunch and use real plates and utensils. But, still using those paper towels…. I guess I am a horrible mother. :/

  9. Bullying is not one whit better when the government does it. Considering the fact that the schools my kids attended and the schools where we now live use disposable everything, I don’t want to hear about no-disposable lunch wraps/containers from home. The greenies, including government entities at any level, make religious fundamentalists look tolerant.

  10. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Because the small waste of a single Ziploc is sooooooooo much worse for the environment than the use of water, gas to heat the water, and the introduction of soap into the environment every damn time you use that tupperware — tupperware which you have to throw away anyway when:

    1) The kid loses the lid
    2) It cracks
    3) It becomes too stained with tomato-based products to comfortably use
    4) It gets crushed beneath textbooks and becomes permanently deformed

    The idea that any adult at a school would put pressure on kids over crap like this makes me furious. Most teachers — even in high schools — couldn’t “science” their way out of a paper bag. They’re nice, and a little educated, but geniuses of environmental engineering they are not. Most of the teachers engaging in this sort of behavior probably couldn’t even explain what the counterarguments to their professed religion were, much less attempt to refute them.

    They have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER attempting to teach children about environmental sustainability. They should shut the f*** up and teach the kids how to read.

    That would be a much better use of their time.

    I’m totally with you, Rob. This makes me want to buy long tons of Ziploc bags, go to the schools where this is occurring, and just throw the things out in front of these people, just for the visceral thrill of sending them into apoplexy (in the vernacular, not clinical, sense).

  11. Foobarista says:

    And they take offense at being called totalitarian?

  12. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Well, Californians are loopy. Never heard of this in my liberal neck of the woods. I do think tupperware is a much cheaper way to go. I get them when they’re on sale for $1.97 with a $1.50 coupon. I don’t wash it if it’s just bread crumbs…

  13. On a pragmatic note, the insulated bags begin to smell after a few months. I tried baking soda and washing machines, but there’s still a vague sort of miasma hanging over older bags.

    Kids also lose their lunch bags. If it’s a paper bag, it’s not a big deal. If it’s an insulated reusable bag, that’s a big deal.

    The reusable bags are made of plastic and other advanced materials. I rather think 180 small brown paper bags, and 180+ waxed paper bags pose less of a burden to the environment than the manufacture and disposal of a “reusable” bag.

  14. Deirdre Mundy says:

    We saw a study once that washing your dishes in the dishwasher was better for the environment than styrofoam IF THE DISHES WENT AT LEAST 5 YEARS WITHOUT BREAKING.

    I have small children. Even our PLASTIC dishes somehow get broken. I no longer feel bad about styrofoam.

    Cloth vs. Disposable diapers are also a toss up– for us, they’re cheaper and more environmentally correct, because they’ve been used for 8 years straight— but if you only have 2 or 3 kids? Disposable might be better…..