The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Laptop Lunches and Obentec, Inc.

Laptop Lunches and Obentec, Inc.

Sustainability

June 27, 2010

When Tammy Pelstring and Amy Hemmet met at the park in 1995, they found themselves talking about the many things they had in common. One thing they discovered is that they were both mothers of young children. They also learned that they shared a deep concern about both the quality of their kids’ school lunches and the wasteful nature of repeatedly bagging that food in one-time use, plastic containers. The result of their revelations was Obentec, Inc., a company founded with the mission of creating fun, practical food containers and user guides to promote better nutrition and waste reduction. Today, their bento-box styled “Laptop Lunches” are the hippest and most environmentally-friendly lunchboxes on the playground. We talked to Pelstring and Hemmet about the benefits of providing consumers with the tools they need to live healthier, greener lives.

How did you come to form Obentec, Inc./Laptop Lunches? 

We came up with the Laptop Lunches concept when our kids were in preschool, and we noticed that most parents were packing highly processed, single-serve food items in their kids’ lunchboxes. This was not only contributing to the soaring obesity rates, but resulted in lots of packaging and food waste being sent to the landfill. We felt that if parents had the tools they needed to pack nutritious, waste-free lunches easily and conveniently, then they would make the switch to packing fresh, whole foods. And they have – not only for their kids, but for themselves as well!

What is the connection between improving school lunchtime nutrition and building healthier communities? 

Lunch is a very important meal. Children who eat well tend to perform better in school and are more energetic and can concentrate well. They’re more likely to be engaged, learning, and better able to participate in their community in meaningful ways. Also, once parents start packing healthy, fresh meals for their kids, they can’t help but look at their own lunches for opportunities to incorporate more nutritious options. With fresh fruits and vegetables in the house to choose from, families are less likely to stop for fast food when they need a meal on-the-go.  

How have you been able to merge commerce with sustainable business practices? 

We consider sustainability in every decision we make, which reflects who we are and what we believe in. It’s clear to us that sustainable practices are not only good for the planet, but they help keep costs down and lead to employee and customer satisfaction. When we design our products, we look for ways to incorporate sustainable materials and practices. Our carriers, for example, are made with 100% recycled polypropylene fabric. Our bento sets contain 10% recycled material, and they are stamped with recycle codes for efficient materials sorting. Our company policy requires all paper products to be made from a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled content, though 99% of our office paper comes from neighboring businesses who give it to us for “second side” use instead of sending it to the recycle bin. Our shipping boxes are made from 100% recycled content and we use salvaged newspapers for packing material. If you stopped by our office or warehouse, the first thing you’d notice is that nothing matches. That’s because all of our furniture and most of our equipment has been purchased second-hand. Finally, we recycle and compost at the office and we even purchase shade-grown, fair trade coffee and organic milk. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

It has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. What are the benefits of providing waste-free lunches? 

Packing waste-free lunches is good for schools, kids, parents, and the planet. Schools that implement waste-free lunch programs save money on waste-hauling fees when they reduce the amount of trash that gets hauled off to the landfill or incinerator. Kids learn the benefit of treading responsibly on the planet. Parents consume fewer natural resources and save money as well. An egg salad sandwich disposable lunch, for example, can run $4.02, compared to an egg salad sandwich waste-free lunch at $2.65. Waste-free lunches promote a mindset of recycling and reuse. The challenge is that many of us aren’t used to packing meals this way, which is why we created the Laptop Lunches line.

What can retailers learn from your success, and how can they get involved in helping consumers reduce mealtime waste? 

Considering the triple bottom line is good for business and good for the planet. Shoppers get excited when they discover a product that helps them live in line with their values, so retailers who offer these items benefit on many levels. Our bento boxes, which come with a book of creative meal ideas, create opportunities, not sacrifice, and we think that’s one reason why they continue to be so popular. Preparing a waste-free meal isn’t about “living without.” It’s about creating something that’s wonderfully appetizing, visually appealing, and wholesomely delicious. Visitwww.wastefreelunches.org for information on educating parents, schools, and employees about where our trash ends up and how we, as individuals, can reduce the amount of trash we generate.



In upcoming issues, we will continue to feature interviews with companies that are taking innovative steps toward the creation of sustainable products and services. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing please contact Allison Bloom at allison@foodnutritionscience.com.