The Eco-friendly Lunchbox

There are many people (you likely know one or two yourself) who will occasionally have brilliant ideas to help one or another of the planet’s big problems. There is a severe dividing line, though, between those who have such ideas and those who actually set out to implement them.

Take, for example, the mom who became conscientious about the amount of plastic she was consuming and throwing away just packing daily lunches for her two children. Not only was discarding plastics an issue, but she had also become informed about chemical compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical linked to hormone disruption that is used in the manufacture of various plastic containers and has been found in several studies to leach into food from those containers.

“I have two little kids, and I just wasn’t finding what I wanted in terms of lunch solutions,” Sandra Ann Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox, told Organic Connections. “It seemed like everything was plastic and throwaways, and every day I would pack up a lunch and I just wasn’t feeling good about how I was packing it—both from an environmental standpoint and from a health standpoint. So I started to hunt down lunch solutions that I thought would work well for my kids.”

In her search, Sandra also took into consideration the need for the containers to be able to be easily opened and closed by children. She had discovered that some of the tougher plastic containers would have to be opened by teachers, who couldn’t necessarily make it to each and every child to help them. Hence, some food wouldn’t even be eaten and would arrive back home at the end of the day.

Ultimately, she could find nothing to satisfy her search, so she came up with a lunch-kit solution herself. It consists of a 100 percent cotton, machine-washable bag; inside are cloth napkins matching the bag and reusable bamboo utensils, along with a stainless-steel food container.

Sandra observed that she wasn’t the only one with this problem—it was potentially an issue for parents everywhere. So, she decided to go ahead and market the ECOlunchbox as a product.

It took some perseverance. “My background is in journalism and non-profit organizations, so I had little to no experience to help me in creating a retail product,” Sandra related. “In fact, I had the concept for years before I actually started the company because I thought it would be too hard. I had no idea how to approach product development, how to source it, how to market it, how to place it in stores—I didn’t know anything about all of that. But my journalism background did prepare me for one thing: to not be shy about asking the right questions. That actually proved to be pretty helpful. In the end I did that and just figured it out.”

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Sandra designed the bag herself, going through numerous prototypes. She knew she had to come up with something that would work for both boys and girls. The unisex design she arrived at is more or less like a traditional lunch bag, but it can be worn as a backpack, carried like a bag, or strapped to the hip. And it is available in many different prints to satisfy a broad spectrum of tastes.

When Sandra actually got into production, she turned to a friend with a Fulbright Scholarship who was studying textiles in India. The friend was able to connect her with traditional Indian block printers as well as with a shop in Mumbai that could sew the bags together for her. She was then able to find other sources for the bamboo utensils and the steel boxes, which come in several different sizes and shapes.

And the business has taken off! ECOlunchboxes are sold both as complete kits and as “a la carte” individual items. The full kits and their components are currently available through many small natural food outlets across the country, and of course from the ECOlunchbox website.

“ECOlunchboxes help to address a few of the risks that we’re facing today,” Sandra concluded. “Are we going to save the world through making kids’ lunches eco-friendly? Probably not, but we can definitely decrease the number of toxic risks to our children’s bodies.”

Something to think about for any of us who might be sitting on good ideas!

For more information, please visit the ECOlunchbox website at www.ECOlunchboxes.com.