plasticontainer.jpg When I was kid, I used to beg my mom to buy Lunchables at the grocery store. They had the same appeal as TV dinners – neat compartments with processed foods we didn’t get to eat very often. And best of all, a dessert! That cookie or brownie always seemed like icing on the preservative-packed cake. 

My mom almost always said no to my requests. Lunchables were too expensive, she’d tell me, and the food wasn’t very filling or healthy. Looking back, I’m glad she kept telling me no. Lunchables generate way more waste than a reusable lunch kit or even a brown paper bag with a couple Ziploc baggies inside. In addition, the food inside does not pack nearly the nutritional punch of a Thermos full of homemade soup or a sandwich stuffed with homemade chicken salad. 

Of course, plenty of people still buy Lunchables. AdAge reports that Kraft sold $1 billion worth of Lunchables products in 2013. And most people probably throw away their entire Lunchables kit when they are done with it. That means a tremendous amount of waste going to local landfills and incinerators. 

But fear not! If you buy Lunchables, either for their ease or their novelty, there are now ways to recycle them. And if you eschew Lunchables but still wish you could have a quick and easy way to transport your lunch, we have some ideas about that too.

What are Lunchables?

Lunchables is the brand name for pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches made by Kraft Foods, Inc. The lunches come in a box or bag, making them quick and easy to grab in the morning. 

There are several different kinds of Lunchables, and each contains different things. Regular Lunchables contain pizza, meat and crackers, or chicken nuggets. The breakfast ones offer things like cinnamon rolls, pancakes and bacon. Large Lunchables Uploaded pouches have a main course plus fruit snacks, chips and a drink. 

Lunchables maintained a pretty good corner on the pre-packaged lunch market until Revolution Foods introduced Jet Packs a few years ago. Their lunches contain antibiotic-free meat, rBST-free cheese, whole grain crackers and organic fruit snacks.

How to recycle Lunchables

If you visit the Lunchables website and click on the “environment” button, it lets you know that you can recycle Lunchables through a partnership between Kraft and TerraCycle. TerraCycle is a national company that recycles all kinds of products, either by upcycling them into new products or turning them into things like plastic lumber.

To recycle your Lunchables through TerraCycle, you will need to register on their website. They require you to save 15 pounds of Lunchables before sticking them in a box and mailing them to the company using the shipping label you can download on their website.

Even if you consume a lot of Lunchables, it may take you a long time to save up that many plastic trays and cardboard boxes. You might consider starting a Lunchables recycling program at your school or office. 

The alternative to recycling Lunchables through TerraCycle is to sacrifice all the plastic packaging and just recycle the cardboard. Each meal comes with a lightweight cardboard cover that can be recycled with other paper products, such as notebook paper, crayon and market boxes and butcher paper.

It is important to make sure that no food waste contaminates the cardboard, however. Food-affected waste, as it is known, can mess up the recycling process by introducing grease. That is why you cannot recycle pizza boxes. A tiny speck of applesauce is acceptable, but grease spots from meat and cheese are not.

How to recycle Lunchables alternatives

An article on TreeHugger notes that Revolution Foods uses sustainable practices in manufacturing when possible. The company recycles, composts and tries to keep packaging waste down.

How to make your own Lunchables

There are plenty of options for reusable lunch ware available these days. Rather than buying a disposable Lunchables kit, try one of these options instead: 

  • ReUseIt sells a wide variety of reusable lunch trays with different compartments. The sections of the tray can be used to separate things like a sandwich, salad, fruit, even a dessert if you feel like putting one in. ReUseIt also has really nice cloth lunch bags to hold your reusable lunch tray. 
  • Eco Lunchbox is another company that sells cute reusable lunch kits. I like the 3-in-1, which has three stainless steel containers that stack on top of each other to make a neat little lunchbox. This seems like it would be handy if you do not want to risk your spaghetti sauce contaminating your chocolate cake, or your Thai-style garlic tofu giving an off taste to your apple or orange slices. Eco Lunchbox’s website also carries cloth bags and other reusable lunch accessories. 
Does making your own “Lunchables” take more time and effort? Yes. Will it save you money, help the planet and result in healthier meals for the people you love? The answer is also yes. To save yourself time in the morning, make and pack each reusable lunch kit the night before. That way you will not be scrambling as you try to get everyone out the door.