These days, you don’t have to be a raving environmentalist to see the advantage in sustainable alternatives to disposable products. From no-straw policies at major coffee chains to municipal plastic bag taxes to full-scale plastic waste bans, the writing on the wall is pretty damn clear. The ecosystem has been telling us for a while now that it can’t take much more waste and we’re finally starting to listen.
If you’re ready to be a good citizen of the planet by making the transition to a more sustainable way of living, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed. Where do you start?
A good place is with your lunch.
Take a second to think about how much plastic attends your average takeout lunch. Even grabbing an all-organic meal from the Whole Foods hot bar means a load of landfill fodder—cardboard containers, plastic clamshells, glass bottles, disposable cutlery… Feeling guilty yet? You should.
Trading it all in for sustainable, non-disposable lunchware is an easy way to not only lighten your carbon footprint, but class things up a little. There’s just something a little more mature about consuming your midday meal from real dishes and flatware. Plus, it’s a handy reminder to do the things that contribute to your overall well-being, e.g., making and bringing your own meals from home, or drinking your recommended daily 64 ounces of water. Basically, sustainable lunchware is a shortcut to adulting. Who knew?
Best of all, this nondisposable lunch ware works just as well for takeaway meals. Yes, you may garner some curious looks when you march into your local deli and load up your sustainable meal container from the hot bar. But these days, that curiosity is more likely to translate as admiring interest. After all, everybody loves a guy who makes a visible effort to do his part.
Ready to take your lunch to the next level? We’ve combed through the growing panoply of options for non-disposable, sustainable lunchware, and separated the merely cute and clever from the practical and highly functional. The following list is our careful curation of the best sustainable lunchware options out there.
Reusable and Sustainable Lunch Gear
Best Thermal Mug
The first non-disposable item to be popularly adopted by the masses, the thermal mug is an oversaturated market, with every conceivable size, design, material and feature you can imagine. So imagine our surprise when along comes a cute little Australian number to make us do a double-take. With its cylindrical shape, stainless steel interior and colorful array of finishes, the Frank Green mug offers minimalist style and high functionality. We especially appreciate the removable basket on top that looks after tea drinkers with equal care as coffee drinkers. Best of all is the spout lock—just press the middle button in the top of the mug, and you’ve got an airtight seal that prevents spills even on the jankiest subway car.
We present for your consideration a classic of the genre. Made by the same folks who brought you the Chico bag, Repeat’s flatware is made of strong but lightweight bamboo that is both heat- and stain-resistant, so it doesn’t impart or absorb flavors. The kit thoughtfully includes a set of chopsticks and comes in a tough pouch made of recycled plastic outfitted with a carabiner, so it’s extra easy to keep track of. The utensils are bigger and sturdier than your average takeout plastic ware—while the fork tines and knife blade aren’t exactly sharp, they are tough enough to stand up to assertive use—you can easily spear and slice by exerting a little extra force.
Best Beeswax Wrap
We tried a lot of cute modular sandwich containers and had to ask ourselves, do the best sandwiches really come in a uniform 3” by 3” square shape? Not the kind we prefer, that’s for sure. That’s why, for our money, the best way to sustainably transport our lunchtime mainstay is the beeswax wrap. Made of organic cotton and coated in a mix of food-grade wax, coconut oil, and other natural preservatives, these cloths are sturdy-yet-pliable, breathable-yet-protective, and built to optimally protect your sandwich from getting mashed, soggy, or contaminated. They also pull double-duty as lid replacements for your leftover containers. Our pick is this one from Uncommon Goods, which comes with a handy attached elastic that keeps the whole thing together.
Best Reusable Plastic Bags
Props to Grove Collaborative for not fixing what ain’t broke. After all, what better to replace the standard plastic Ziploc than something that looks and acts exactly like a Ziploc? These from Grove look just like the baggies your mom sent you to school with, but they’re way more durable, BPA-free, and don’t clog the landfills. Better still, if they should suffer untimely damage, these bags are recyclable. Best of all, these bags have a distinctive enough design that nobody can steal your eats from the office fridge under the pretense that they mistook it for their own.
Best Meal Container
From the outset, we were immediately attracted to the tiffin, a stackable meal transportation kit traditionally used in India. Each stainless steel layer latches above the next, creating radiant heat that helps keep the food warm and makes the whole kit easy to carry. The one problem we encountered was insulation…or rather, the lack thereof. Hot food only stayed hot for so long, and if it was too hot, it burned our fingers. (First world problems, we know.) So imagine our delight when we found this number—a leak-proof tiffin-style container that comes with a handy felted sleeve. Not only was our insulation issue resolved, but the sling-style strap makes it a breeze for bike commuters. Plus, you can’t deny the grey felt and tooled leather give it a much classier look than, say, your colleague’s soft-top cooler. The only downside to these babies? You can’t just toss them in the microwave.
Best Water Bottle
Another oversaturated market, another embarrassment of options. From classic stainless steel to the ultra-insulated mugs to hefty hydration tanks made to withstand thirty-foot drops off a cliff, there are more water bottles on heaven and earth than we have thought of in our dreams. And then we stumbled across this water bottle from Black + Blum, and the decision became easy. We’ll admit to being instantly smitten with its hourglass shape and natural cork stopper, but what really sealed the deal for us was the charcoal filter stick included in the bottle. This feature is a godsend for anyone who has suffered from the taste of metallic tap water, or (shudder) a refrigerator water dispenser that hasn’t been cleaned or changed out in years. Just drop the charcoal stick into your bottle, fill with water, wait an hour, and you’ve got freshly filtered H2O at your disposal. The Black + Blum bottle comes in thick glass, but also offers a BPA-free plastic option for the butterfingered among us.
Environmental activists have been campaigning against plastic straws for years—we’ve had ample time to research the alternatives. And yet, when asked to make a selection, we were hard pressed to find an option we could really get behind. Bamboo seems like a natural choice, but it disintegrates quickly, requires hand-washing, and threatens to lodge splinters in your lips. Stainless steel is durable and dishwasher-safe, but not ideal if your beverage of choice happens to be warm. Glass is upscale, but it just feels like asking for a problem, especially if you’re carrying it to and from work. We found our perfect match with these picks from Kleen Kanteen, which offer the durability of stainless steel with a removable silicone sleeve that protects your lips from getting burned. They’re all dishwasher-safe and come with a handy straw brush to ensure that your morning smoothie doesn’t leave gunk that will mar the flavor of your after-work cocktail.
Best Lunch Box/Bag
The double insulated compartment lets you store foods of different temperatures on different levels. You can also fit up to eight 12-oz cans of…soda…in the bottom compartment if you’re Friday pre-gaming in the office parking lot.
If you’ve already mastered the art of making your own lunch, have all the gear you need to stave off environmental destruction, but want to go a step further and start meal prepping, check out the best options for meal prep containers on the market.