Protecting the Apostles from plastics one lunch at a time

Child eating lunch from reusable containers - Ecolunchbox

Written by Jeff Rennicke

April 18, 2023

Sandra Harris just wanted to make her kids a healthy lunch. She may have started a revolution that could change your next trip to the Apostle Islands.

Harris, who worked as an investigative journalist, was all-too aware of the worldwide plastic pollution problem and its associated health issues. But from years in the nonprofit world, she knew too that change could happen if people just had the tools to work with. Then, an idea came to her one-day while packing school lunches for her kids.

Reusable containers filled with lunch - Ecolunchbox photo

Stainless steel lunch boxes and snack containers – Ecolunchbox photo

“I wanted to eliminate plastics from my kids’ lunchboxes, both to reduce their exposure to the leachy toxins and to do the right thing for Mother Earth,” she says. “So, I set out to design a plastic-free line of lunch boxes, bags, and food-to-go accessories that are healthy for people and the planet.”

Ecolunchbox was born.

Ecolunchbox logo

It was such a simple concept, change people could literally wrap their lunch in, that the company grew quickly. Today, ECOlunchbox is a mission-based, certified B Corp and California Green Business working on educating, inspiring and empowering people to say goodbye to plastic.

Harris herself has become a sought-after speaker on the plastic-free lifestyle and is the author of Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic-Free Living. Her company has sold over a million plastic-free products that are healthier for kids and adults alike and avert the disposal of tens of millions of pieces of trash annually.

Say Goodbye to Plastics book - Ecolunchbox

Now the plastic-free idea is spreading beyond school lunches and into national parks. As idyllic as national parks may seem, they are not exempt from the plastics problem. Each year the 300 million visitors to national parks create over 70 million tons of trash, an estimated 81% of that trash is made up of plastic. Last year Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced an order to phase out single use plastics from public lands including national parks by 2032.

Here in the Apostle Islands, the impact of plastics is still being researched. One 2018 study done by Clemson University claimed the Apostle Islands had the highest concentration of microplastics in its water and on its beaches of any of the 35 national parks analyzed. While subsequent research questions the accuracy of those findings, many scientists are expressing a growing concern over plastic pollution on public lands in general, including the Apostles.

The shape of hermit island on the horizon, with the nearly-calm water reflecting the sun beaming through dappled clouds

Microplastics are being detected in Lake Superior – Jeff Rennicke photo

This Earth Day, Friends of the Apostle Islands teamed with ECOlunchbox as part of its “Keep the Plastics Out of the Park” theme to urge visitors to reduce their own plastic use and lessen their impact on Lake Superior and the islands. As the sponsor of this year’s Earth Day Event, ECOlunchbox founder, Sandra Harris shared ideas that can make food planning for your next trip healthier for you and the islands.


  • Plan ahead. Start early in considering and seeking out alternatives to plastics in your food planning and packing.
  • Buy in bulk to minimize packaging waste.
  • Repair old but still functional gear rather than buying new.
  • Think about compostable, recyclable, or reusable utensils to replace plastic forks and spoons.
  • Avoid single use water bottles and disposable plastic bags.
  • Consider alternatives for safe food storage like lightweight stainless-steel containers.
  • Pack out everything you bring in (remember good pre-planning can go a long way in reducing waste).
Friends volunteer picks up trash

Friends volunteer picks up trash on Earth Day

Despite the advancement in plastic alternatives, Harris recognizes that reducing plastic use can still be overwhelming. “Take things in small steps,” Harris recommends. “No one is going to solve the world’s plastic pollution problems on their own or overnight. Take it one step at a time. Try one plastic alternative and see if it is right for you. Then, try another.”


New habits can begin anywhere, even in the Apostle Islands. Maybe your next journey into the islands can also be the first step on your journey to a plastic free life, and a healthier planet for all of us. Think of it as changing the world, and protecting the islands, one lunch at a time.

Friends of the Apostle Islands thanks ECOlunchbox for its sponsorship of our Earth Day events. For more information on ECOlunchbox and its array of plastic alternatives or to purchase a copy of Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic Free Living go to

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