Zero waste lunchboxes are easier than I imagined, promise

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

I joined Greenpeace when I was 9 (although to be fair, it was my dad who paid the membership fees) I read every newsletter with dedication and never went anywhere without my rainbow pin badge. Saving the planet was important to me and I frequently bashed people round the head with the urgent need to save the rain forest. 

Fast forward 30 odd years and I'm wrestling a guilty conscious as I fill up my supermarket trolley with items that put convenience (which comes wrapped in single-use plastic) over sustainably. At one point I was even buying pre-cut carrot sticks. 

I'm not proud of it, but even in the face of a mounting climate emergency, those convenience items (particularly lunchbox stuff like individual bags of popcorn, rice crackers and cereal bars) have been hard to ditch. My pitiful excuse is that I'm time poor and anything that shaved a few minutes off my morning rush seemed like a win. 

I had good intentions - Keep Cup? Tick. Menstrual cup? Tick! Aluminium water bottle? Tick? I collect soft plastics for recycling and give away unwanted clothes via my local pay it forward group. But still, convenience stopped me making the leap to plastic free. Nine-year-old me would be turning in her Greenpeace badge. 

Then I joined my kids' school's sustainability committee. First item on the agenda? Reducing single use plastics in the school canteen and lunchboxes. 

I couldn't quite bring myself to admit that I hadn't quite managed to produce a zero-waste lunchbox (I mean, why confess to four people when you can write about it and broadcast to the whole country?) but I silently vowed that my days of putting convenience above my commitment to the environment were over. 

Since then I've been shunning convenience items everywhere I go. And, contrary to the faffing I imagined, it hasn't actually been that hard. 

I started making my own lunchbox items (oat cookies, bran muffins and bread sticks) and bought large family packs of popcorn and pretzels that could be dished into reusable containers (rather than buying a 6-pack of individually wrapped portions). 

Saci Campbell, operations manager at sustainable lunchbox shop Seed & Sprout says that going zero waste is not as hard as people think. "The key is to take small steps and then expand on that," she tells me. 

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Saci also notes that as well as reducing the plastic that ends up in landfill, zero-waste shopping also sends a powerful message to businesses. "The more that people start to do this, it will force businesses to change their practices and offerings," she explains. 

I got my kids and husband on board with my zero-waste plan. I explained why we were changing our shopping habits and encouraged them to look for other ways that we could improve as a family (cue new composting system…) 

I've learned that reducing plastic it isn't as hard (or inconvenient) as I imagined it to be. But how can I encourage others to take up the challenge? A possible step is recruiting friends and family to participate in Plastic Free July

 "The challenge is all about taking one step by step, picking one item at a time and finding a reusable alternative," says Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, the founder of Plastic Free July. 

"It's not about doing everything – it's about doing something. One change can go a long way. Be reassured that time you choose to take that small daily action you are joining millions of people around the world make a difference." 

Last year 120 million people took part in plastic free July and 90 per cent of them made long-term changes to their daily habits. The changes I've made recently are a great start, and perhaps, by taking up the challenge I can do better still. 

Maybe it's time to dust off my old Greenpeace badge.