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This Md. company wants to help you pack your lunch more sustainably

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 packing 20 school lunches a week — and, in doing so, using and throwing away dozens and dozens of single-use plastic baggies.   

It was this weekly routine that made her aware of how much plastic is tossed into landfills each year — 27 million tons 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 fabric bag, sealed with velcro, that can be used for packing any food item, from sandwiches to strawberries. 

It’s been over a decade since Quigley developed the original Lunchskin, and since then, the company, which is based in Bethesda, has evolved into a whole brand of sustainable products for packing food, including disposable, recyclable, compostable paper bags and paper straws, as well the original reusable Lunchskins. 

(Her kids have also grown up in the intervening years — and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they all work in sustainability these days.) 

The company, which claims to have replaced over two-and-a-half billion plastic bags over its lifespan, is built on a mission of helping busy families and parents lunch and snack more sustainably — without asking them to totally readjust long-held habits or to spend large amounts of money on sustainable 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 baggie,” she said. “We use them for everything. We use them to store stuff. We use them to take our food. We use them to have snacks. We use them to keep other items, loose odds and ends, in our bags and purses and things like that. So, I was just really reaching for, ‘what do people already do and how can I replicate that behavior with a better, greener, sustainable product?’” 

It’s that ease of use that sets Lunchskins apart from other products that aim to make storage more sustainable. But, Quigley noted, her goal isn’t to be the only sustainable packing product on the market. She hopes to someday see a slate of recyclable baggies available in grocery stores so that consumers have just as much freedom of choice when selecting environmentally friendly products as they do when selecting between brands of single-use plastics. 

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

Still, not all disposable paper bags are made equal — some companies’ products are wax-coated, which make them unable to be recycled. (Wax paper baggies also cannot be microwaved, whereas Lunchskins paper products can, albeit for a maximum of two minutes.) 

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

Lunchskins’ newest upcoming product is a line of snack-sized paper baggies — something that Quigley acknowledged isn’t the most glamorous. But, she said, it’s important to produce a range of recyclable and compostable baggies in order to “mirror” the plastic products available in grocery stores. 

In addition to rolling out new products, the company was also inspired by the pandemic to dabble in a new business model — selling in bulk to food service companies, Quigley said. Throughout the pandemic, she noticed that companies were primarily using plastic containers when selling food to-go and wondered if Lunchskins’ products could help reduce restaurant’s waste. 

Now, the company sells boxes of 500 paper bags or paper straws, in hopes of expanding Lunchskins’ impact and building relationships with food service providers. 

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

One comment

  1. What a great idea and it’s based right here in Maryland! This helps the environment by reducing the amount of plastic bags we use on a daily basis.