Nearly two thirds of workers say they are buying “lunch on the go” more often, leading to an increase in packaging waste.
Three quarters of people said they buy lunch out and about once or more in a typical working week, according to a Censuswide poll for the environmental charity Hubbub.
The survey spoke to more than 1,200 full and part-time workers, with 64% saying they buy lunch on the go more than they were five years ago.
The trend for heading out for lunch is generating waste as workers pick up an average of four pieces of packaging and other single-use items such as napkins, plastic forks and sandwich wrappers.
Many of the items cannot be recycled, the charity said.
The most common reasons people give for buying lunch on the go rather than bringing in food from home are that they like the variety (36%), they like a break to go out and get some fresh air (31%), or they do not have time to make their own lunches (30%).
Hubbub is launching a new campaign, the #FoodSavvy Lunch Club, which is encouraging people across the UK to rethink their lunch habits to reduce food and plastic waste.
It is being carried out with Norfolk and Suffolk councils.
The campaign follows a trial with businesses Aviva, Axa, BT and the Environment Agency in East Anglia.
It challenged 50 employees to go for a month without using single use packaging at lunch time and gave them support to do so.
More than four fifths (83%) said the lunch club helped them reduce single-use packaging, and 67% said it helped them to save money.
They also took part in a pilot scheme with local eateries which saw them receive a small incentive for bringing their own packaging.
Trewin Restorick, chief executive of Hubbub, said: “‘Lunch on the go’ items create huge levels of waste and unfortunately much of this isn’t recyclable as it’s made from mixed materials or isn’t recycled due to contamination from food residue.
“By planning lunches in advance and using up items in your fridge you can massively reduce the amount of packaging you use while saving money by cutting down on food waste – in the UK we could save £58m a day just by making our own lunches.
“If you do buy lunch on the go, don’t be shy – take along your own container to your favourite lunch spot.
“We’d encourage anyone wanting to get involved in the campaign to visit the Food Savvy website and we’d love more businesses to take on the challenge too – just register your interest on the Hubbub website.”