Monday, September 27, 2010

L is for LUNCH

Stomachs gurgle, eyes turn to look up at the clock...then the bell rings!  Yeah, time for lunch and RECESS!!!

Over 76.6 million children look forward to lunch and recess.  It's when they get to chat with friends, refuel with lunch, and get some fresh air and exercise.  These children consume homemade lunches and cafeteria food, and when they are done, they produce an astounding amount of lunch related trash.  On average, school-aged children eating disposable lunches generate about 67 pounds of waste per year.  For an average sized elemenatary school that translates to about 18,000 pounds or 9 tons of lunch waste that ends up in the landfill.

So what ends up in the 9 tons of trash at an average school?  Just think about what you send you children in their lunch, or what they eat in the school lunch they buy, and then consider what they don't eat and what goes in the trash...

Paperbags, plastic ziplocks, packaging from chip bags, cookies, cheese sticks, and yogurts, juice boxes, milk cartons, banana peels, apple cores, peach pits, and lots and lots of uneaten food is thrown out.  If you saw the amount of food that goes into the trash your stomach would turn.  I've seen the food wasted at snack time and at lunch time...and I can hear my parent's voices in my head, "that food could feed many starving people, don't waste food!"  I'm also saddened by the amount of trash that could be recycled but is not.

It's estimated that 380 billion plastic bags (about 1,200 plastic bags per person/per year), and about 2.7 billion juice boxes are thrown away each year. (Earthworks Group, 2009)  When I read the statistics about plastic bags I quickly calculated that my family would use on average 7,200 plastic bags made from non-renewable petroleum products per year.  YIKES!  So over the course of the last year, I've switched the family over to using reusable sandwich and snack bags.  Via a school fundraiser, I bought wrap-n-mat which I like because it provides a clean surface for the sandwiches to set on instead of the germy lunchtable.  Then I discovered, and   I bought a few of each brand and was hooked on them!  They are easy to clean, and can be reused over and over, and are made of food-safe materials.  We also use small glad plastic containers instead of plastic bags for muffins, and other things that stand up better in a rigid container (and to appease the pickiest of all..the teenagers in the family who are not easily swayed by my eco-conscious reasoning...they just find it hard to be "cool" using my awesome eco-snack and sandwich bags).  I must comment that the kids, hubby, and I have had many positive comments about our fun, colorful reusable bags, and we are often asked for info about the bags, which we readily share.  Recently my sister sent us some new bags called Lunchskins  and those have been a nice addition to our collection as well.

To transport our lunches, we've never used paper lunch bags (except on field trips when we can't stow the reusable items).  Instead we have a variety of lunch "boxes".  We have pretty, stylish Vera Bradley lunchbags  for my fashionistas, LLBean lunch boxes, and Built BYO lunch bags available at Target, Kohls, etc. 

So it really couldn't be easier to bring a waste-free lunch...with sturdy lunch bags from LL Bean, or pretty choices from Vera Bradley, taking your lunch can even be a fashion statement!  There are many waste-free, accessories such as reusable stainless steel or aluminum water bottles that can be used to keep hydrated throughout the day, reusable, non-plastic snack and sandwich bags, and cloth napkins.  Instead of plastic utensils, encourage your family to take regular silverware and return it.  With all the various reusable items, there are so many options for decreasing our waste, and the costs associated with it.

As for food waste, much of it could be composted, and recycled into "brown gold" by the humblest of decomposers, the Earth worm.  Greening of school lunches could easily be integrated into the school curriculum.  Setting goals to reduce waste, bring waste-free lunches, sorting out recyclables, composting, graphing waste reduction and disposal savings could all be integrated into science, math, and even writing curriculum.  I wholeheartedly believe that providing children with opportunities to learn about positive environmental habits will lead to lifelong attitudes about sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

The new 50 Simple Things Kids Can do to save the Earth, Earthworks Group, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, Kansas City, 2009

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back to School Supplies

Wow, back-to-school prep and activities have been keeping us pretty busy!  We are finally settling into the schedules for 4 different schools, homework, sports, and other soon as September comes, it's like the pulse of the family starts to race!

The back-to-school supply lists that come home are usually pretty classic, including scissors, pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons and markers.  Even before my family had school supply lists, in fact as soon as each child was old enough to hold a pencil, they've been scribbling, doodling, and creating with Crayola products.  I guess you could say, they've always been a family favorite.  This year when it was time to sift through the supply lists for my kids, it brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart when I learned about Crayola's new "Eco-Evolution" and the greening of their products by using renewable energy, protecting the rainforests, and by reducing waste.

Sweet Pea was the first to notice the new initiatives by Crayola.  She brought me her crayon box and showed me that they now are using solar power to make 1/3 of their crayons, which is equal to about a billion crayons each year made with solar power.  To accomplish this, they built a 15-acre solar farm with 26,000 panels.  Pretty impressive!  Wonder if they'll name a crayon, "solar panel blue"?

To "green" their colored pencils, they produced them with reforested wood which is wood taken from special tree farms grown specifically for harvesting, and not from tropical rain forest.  Crayola plants new trees for every one tree used to make the pencils.  Maybe they should name one of the green pencils "sustainable harvest green"  :)

And black is now in vogue at may have noticed that Crayola colored markers have black barrels instead of white. Crayola is now using recycled plastic bottle caps to make the marker barrels.  In addition, plastic scraps from making marker casings are crushed into tiny pellets and put back into the system. The black color of the barrels allows more recycled plastic to be used, in turn keeping 1 million pounds of plastic bottle caps and scrap plastic out of  landfills.

During my back-to-school supply shopping, I found a "green" highlighter by Pentel.  It is part of the new Recycology™ the Science of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle program, which Pentel developed "to enhance its mission of helping the environment by creating less waste and increasing recycling activity" through innovative product design and manufacturing.  With this line of products, Pentel's goal is to "protect natural resources and the environmental at all stages of the manufacturing process" and it is accomplished by using a minimum of 50% recycled content (excluding consumable content and refills).   

The Handy-lineS, ultraslim highlighters I found are made from 54% post consumer recycled plastic.  I also like that they are retractable and refillable, creating less waste.  Even the packaging is made from cardstock that is 100% recycled, and the plastic blister front piece is a minimum of 25% recycled material!

There are many outstanding products in this line, including the popular mechanical pencil leads which come in 100% recycled plastic case, many pens, white board marker, and permanent markers made with 50-80% recycled plastic .  I like that Pentel is recycling products that would otherwise end up in the landfill. 

Paper Mate also has green products that are impressive.  Their line of biodegradable pens and pencils, have barrels that unscrew and are made from corn-based material.  After removing the interior plastic/ink piece that is not biodegradable, the barrel decomposes in the compost or landfill in about a year.  They also have products made from recycled materials such as their correction film (67% recycled material), ball point pens made with 70-80% recycled materials.  I found the Earth Write pencils and added that to our back-to-school supply pile.  These pencils are made from 100% recycled cedar.  They also participate with Terracycle one of my favorite eco-entrepreneurial companies that up-cycling materials using innovative designs   

So while there may have been a tad bit of back to school blues that banished quickly as our daily pace quickened ...we also found some back-to-school green to start the year off write ;)  I'm sure you found many green school supplies in your travels too.  Leave a comment to let me know what you've found!