Mealtime waste reduction and recycling

by Amanda Haffele

Portage County Solid Waste Director

It’s that time of year again where early mornings, study sessions, and nightly practices, games, shows, or scouting adventures are five days a week for the next eight months. It’s so easy to get into a routine where we throw easy meals at the family and head out the door. I do it, you do it, we all do it. However, I challenge each and every reader to swap one wasteful habit for one less wasteful alternative at least one time per week — extra credit if you do more than one! This will not only save you money, maybe even a few calories, but a lot of unnecessary resources and accumulated trash.


Mornings. Swap single-use drink pods for reusable ones or a pre-programed coffee maker. Single-use drink pods are not recyclable due to multiple layers of materials mixed together and, due to their small size, most people toss them into the trash. There are a bunch of reusable pods out there that you can fill each morning or pre-fill once per week. Coffee makers don’t need to make a full pot; my husband makes just enough each morning to fill his travel mug.

If making coffee or tea at home is not your thing or you just like to splurge in the morning, bring a travel mug to use at your local coffee shop or gas station. Or if you’re like me and can wait, fill your mug up once you get to the office. As a reminder, disposable cups, lids, and straws are just that, disposable. Don’t put them into your recycling bin.

Try swapping pre-made breakfast cookies or bars for prepackaged morning snacks. Foil or plastic wrappers, pouches, or cling wraps are not recyclable, so trash them. Plan ahead once per month to make and freeze breakfast burritos or pancakes. The morning you want them, remove them from the freezer and pop them into the microwave or toaster for a quick, yet less wasteful breakfast.


Lunch or snack time. It’s easy to buy a bunch of prepackaged lunches or salads and toss one into the lunch box each day, but most everything that that lunch is packaged in is trash; juice boxes or pouches, wrappers, cling wrap, trays, bags, silverware, and yes, the box it comes in. Our paper mills do not use any chemicals to break down the wetting agents used in making boxes specifically made for the fridge or freezer, and therefore it ends up in the landfill anyway. Recycle any bottles or yogurt containers.

Swap a prepackaged or fast-food meal for a cheaper and less wasteful make-at-home meal. I can’t think of anything from a fast-food restaurant that is recyclable besides a plastic milk bottle or plastic apple sauce container. Leftovers are a great choice for lunch. For long car rides, I like to make my own “Lunchables.” I keep meat, cheese, fruit, crackers, etc., separated by using reusable silicone muffin tin liners and small containers inside one large container. Try swapping apple sauce pouches for plastic recyclable ones (foil is trash) and a reusable spoon. Take it one step further and fill up small containers from a large jar. This works great with yogurt, pudding, humus, guacamole, salsa, and condiments.

Swap plastic food bags for reusable bags. I’ve been using mine for more than five years! I turn them inside out, wash them with my clothes, and then air dry them. You can find them online, at big box stores, or at local waste-less stores. There is also a huge selection of metal and plastic containers for packaging your items.


Dinner time. I fully understand the convenience and ease of purchasing meal delivery kits from places like HelloFresh or Blue Apron. However, these kits rarely have anything recyclable in them. Shrink-wrapped foods have a non-recyclable film around them, and meat trays or clamshells (think plastic strawberry, lettuce, or herb containers) are not recyclable. Aluminum trays are not recyclable in your curbside bin because of the low-grade material they’re made of. You can, however, drop-off clean metal trays at a metal salvage yard. Plastic bottles or jugs need to be bigger than your fist to make it through sorting equipment.

There are so many other tips and tricks out there to reduce your waste while eating. These include buying ice cream in a cone vs. a throwaway bowl and spoon or keeping a reusable cup, mug, or set of silverware at work or in your lunchbox. Whatever you do to make your life a little less wasteful, I applaud and thank you for your effort. As always, give us a call at (715) 343-6297 if you’re unsure if something is trash or recyclable.


The comparative costs and yields of individually pre-packaged items versus make-at-home meals.

Related Posts

To Subscribe

The Jensen Community Spirit is mailed at no charge to property owners and residents within the Tomorrow River (TR) School District. Residents outside of the school district that have students attending the TR Schools will also receive issues at no charge. Gift and other subscriptions to the Jensen Community Spirit are welcome and can be mailed to addresses in the continental United States for $30 for a one-year subscription. Subscriptions are not refundable but may be transferred.

Subscriptions delivered outside of the continental USA will need to be quoted for additional shipping costs.


Recent Articles

Editorial: By the numbers
July 1, 2024
Amherst Investment Bowl team places third at State
July 1, 2024
Setting records at State Track and Field
July 1, 2024

Post Category