This Maryland Company Wants to Help You Make Your Lunch More Sustainable

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Kirsten Quigley, founder and CEO of Lunchskins, with a box of the company’s paper bags. (Submitted Photo/Lunchskins)

As a mother of four young children, Kirsten Quigley often found herself preparing 20 school meals a week – and in the process using and throwing away dozens and dozens of single-use plastic bags.

It was this weekly routine that made him aware of the amount of plastic thrown into landfills each year – 27 million tonnes in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — and led her to find a solution to replace single-use plastic bags for food storage.

That solution was the Lunchskin, a reusable, dishwasher-safe cloth bag sealed with Velcro that can be used to pack anything from sandwiches to strawberries.

It’s been over a decade since Quigley developed the original Lunchskin, and since then the Bethesda-based company has grown into a comprehensive brand of sustainable food packaging products, including disposable paper bags, recyclable and compostable and paper straws, as well as the original reusable Lunchskins.

(His kids have grown up in the years since, too — and, unsurprisingly, they’re all working in sustainability these days.)

The company, which claims to have replaced more than two and a half billion plastic bags in its lifetime, is on a mission to help busy families and parents eat lunch and snacks more sustainably – without their ask them to completely readjust their long-standing habits. or spend large sums of money on durable products.

That’s why Lunchskins’ paper sandwich bags aim to function almost exactly the same as a single-use plastic bag, said Quigley, who has a background in sustainability and health sciences.

“The most common thing to reach for — and it’s not just kids, it’s all of us — is a plastic bag,” she said. “We use them for everything. We use them to store things. We use them to take our food. We use them for snacks. We use them to keep other items, bric-a-brac, in our bags and purses and things like that. So I was really looking, ‘what are people already doing and how can I replicate this behavior with a better, greener, sustainable product?’

It’s this ease of use that sets Lunchskins apart from other products that aim to make storage more sustainable. But, Quigley noted, its goal isn’t to be the only sustainable packaging product on the market. She hopes to one day see a list of recyclable bags available in grocery stores so that consumers have as much freedom of choice when selecting eco-friendly products as when choosing between brands of single-use plastics.

Indeed, others have jumped on the paper bag bandwagon, with major brands like Ziploc and Reynolds Kitchens unveiling similar products in recent years.

Still, not all disposable paper bags are created equal – some companies’ products are coated in wax, making them impossible to recycle. (Wax paper bags also cannot be microwaved, unlike Lunchskins paper products, but for a maximum of two minutes.)

Lunchskins sells its products both online and in retail stores – particularly grocery stores, in the same aisles one would find traditional plastic bags. The company announcement in May that it would begin selling its products at Walmart. It also partners with Whole Foods, Sprouts and Target, as well as other local supermarket chains, including Giant Food and specialty grocer MOM’s Organic Market, which are based in Prince George and Montgomery counties respectively. .

Lunchskins’ upcoming new product is a range of snack-sized paper bags – something Quigley says isn’t the most glamorous. But, she says, it’s important to produce a range of recyclable and compostable bags to “mirror” the plastic products available in grocery stores.

In addition to rolling out new products, the company has also been inspired by the pandemic to embark on a new business model — selling in bulk to restaurant businesses, Quigley said. Throughout the pandemic, she’s noticed businesses primarily using plastic containers to sell take-out food and wondered if Lunchskins’ products could help reduce restaurant waste.

Today, the company sells boxes of 500 paper bags or paper straws, hoping to expand Lunchskins’ impact and build relationships with foodservice providers.

“A lot of these grocery stores have their own food service, but (just like) schools and campuses, college campuses, corporate campuses,” she said. “There are a lot of break rooms and places we want to be, and we want Lunchskins to be this single-use plastic bag alternative.”

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