What’s The Deal With Waste-Free, Boomerang Lunch Programs?

School lunch ideas boomerang lunch programs

As an elementary teacher, I’ve spent years cringing at the contents of school waste bins. After lunch, they are stuffed with of barely touched yogurt, bite-marked bagels, and full baggies of carrot sticks. In the primary grades, the juice boxes threaten to spill onto the classroom floor after an indoor recess.

Waste-free, boomerang lunch programs are an environmental initiative you want to help your school get behind.

Waste-free lunch vs. boomerang lunch programs

A waste-free lunch, or a litterless lunch, is one where all the lunch gear is reusable from the washable cloth napkins to the refillable juice box container. It is a planet friendly way to pack your child’s lunch as it doesn’t produce the daily trash of single-use items.

A boomerang lunch is a program where students are asked to bring all the garbage home from their lunches. This includes all packaging and food waste. Since many schools aren’t set up to sort organic matter or even recycle as fully as we can at home, the garbage can be disposed of in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Read: How Ontario EcoSchools Are Nurturing EcoLeaders

By initiating a waste-free, boomerang lunch program, schools can work with families to support the environment. It significantly reduces food and packaging waste.

How do boomerang lunch programs help families?

Perhaps your child never eats the grapes you send and always has half a sandwich left?

Boomerang lunch programs help families save money by seeing which of the food being sent each day is actually been eaten.

You’ll also be able to cut down on your family’s avoidable food waste. Food that is edible but is being thrown out. What a waste of our dollars and the resources that went into producing and transporting that food to you!Boomerang Lunch Programs

Most lunch trash comes from disposable packaging, a waste-free, boomerang program helps families reconsider the way they purchases, prepare, and pack food for school.

Shifting to a waste-free lunch means that grocery shopping becomes about buying in bulk or making food at home so that school meals can be packed into reusable containers.

Start packing better school lunches

Drinks can be packed in resealable containers. Many students take sips and then don’t want anymore since they cannot place it back in their lunch bag they throw away a hardly used juice box.

Cut sandwiches and fruits and veggies into snack sized servings. This way if a child doesn’t eat it all during lunch they can have some easily available for afternoon recess/snack time.

Involve your child in packing their lunch. It’s another way to grow their food literacy!

Visit the Waste-Free Lunch challenge to print out this helpful waste-free lunch reminder for your fridge!

Waste-free lunch Instructions


  • dianehoffmaster says:

    While this is a great idea there are a few limitations. Im not sure about other schools but my kids are not allowed to eat at any time other than lunch. So that food they leave in their lunch box won’t get eaten one way or another since the cold pack is no longer cold after an 8+ hour day at school. We do reusable for most things…drink containers, sandwich containers, snack containers and cloth napkins. But I do NOT want a half a banana sitting in his lunch box all day to come home….that does not make for a clean lunch box at all! And things like yogurt no longer come with lids which annoys me because putting even an empty container of yogurt back into your lunch box cause a HUGE mess. So, while I definitely thing the idea is interesting to teach people how much waste they are creating, practically I am not so sure about it.

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      I think like any program, the boomerang lunch, needs to be implemented with thought and suggestions to the parents. I see it being done at my school as well as on many field trips. Yogurt is a tricky one to bring home. I started buying more yogurt in bulk, which is less waste, and bought some great containers to send the yogurt to school in. Personally, since my most schools do not have a compost, organic program, I’d rather wash the messy lunchbox than see so much waste being thrown into the garbage.

  • Shawna says:

    I hate the boomerang lunch. Rather, I hate the boomerang lunch as it is currently, thoughtlessly implemented. Our school sends everything home; but as Diane pointed out, it can get messy. So the solution was to suggest that parents send a ziploc bag to send food and dirty containers home in. I’m positive that almost no one actually washes out these extra bags, so we’re actually creating more plastic garbage to go to landfill this way. I would also strongly suspect that the contents of these bags at least sometimes goes straight in the trash with no sorting into recyclable and composting material at home – why not use the recycling programs at school (which they have to have by law where I live) to teach kids what their parents often don’t teach at home, and divert the waste into the proper stream at the same time? I would much rather see only the true trash be sent home, along with organic waste if the school doesn’t have an organic waste program.

    By the way, my solution is to save bags I’d have to throw out anyway from my groceries (produce bags, bread bags, etc.), then send those instead of the suggested ziplocs with my kids. And I do compost/recycle at home when things come back.

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      Your solution to use those bags seems like a great way to extend their purpose. I think if good reusable containers are available than it helps and I like seeing what my child doesn’t eat as I find that I cut down or shift what I send. Our school has recycling but it is limited but we have no organic waste collection in the schools. I like to be able to sort it properly at home because I want to divert it into the proper place, like you. Thanks for weighing in. It’s great to share ideas and think about how to make programs like these better for the planet and the people using them!