Consider the packaging… not just the contents!

produce bagsWhen we make food choices for our families, we often put most of our effort into what we’re buying but, there is another part of the equation.

How is your purchase packaged? I get really annoyed when I see lovely organic eggs placed in a polystyrene container.  Nope, that’s not green at all because, while it can be upcycled, it certainly can’t be recycled.

Take a closer look:

  • Glass – it’s a dream container. Not only can it be recycled but it can be safely reused.
  • Aluminum cans – yes, it’s recyclable but many also worry about leaching into the contents.glss jar
  • Paper packaging – it often gets contaminated from food residue or has a wax coating, making it unrecyclable.
  • Plastic – some of it is recyclable, but it’s also made from fossil fuels.  And, would you believe, only about 4% of plastics ever get recycled! (Plus, many also worry about plastics leaching toxins into the food.)
  • Cardboard or paperboard – definitely “Recycling 101”… make sure it reaches your recycling can.
  • Polystyrene (often called Styrofoam) – covered in my “egg” comment… avoid it!

The moral of the story is to consider the packaging of what you purchase right along WITH your purchase.  You CAN bring your own containers for bulk foods, the meat and deli counter, produce… and you’ll earn a green star for being “as green as you can be!”

Trash or (art class) treasure?

number 5 yogurt 2I’m a recycling maniac. I really do recycle just about anything I can justify going into the recycling can… mostly because I know the list of common recyclables AND because I can’t stand NOT recycling. (Small paper tag on a new article of clothing?… oh yea.  Even something THAT small!)

Sometimes, however, there are items that just don’t fit the guidelines: plastic containers that your community won’t accept, polystyrene trays and egg cartons that can’t be recycled, kids cups from restaurants or just that miscellaneous something-or-other that is destine for the trash.

Have you ever considered your children’s school or a local art group? I have, and I donate all of this unwanted “trash” to my kids’ art class.  They accept it with open arms and put these supplies to good use.egg fm crtn

Drop the teacher a note or call the school to see if they are interested.  You might be shocked with how excited they’ll be to take your “garbage” off your hands.

One family’s trash can be an art class treasure!

Eco-unfriendly Styrofoam coolers give me the “chills!”

Summer is in full swing and sadly, to me, it feels like it’s half over.  I always consider summer a brief 10 week experience (now that we have kids in school), but that’s my own issue.

cooler-foamAnyhow, while I’ve been out and about with my family enjoying the “first half”, one thing keeps catching my eye… Styrofoam coolers.  I almost can’t believe that these things still exist.  I understand that they are a matter of convenience, but with some forethought, it’s easy to be prepared and no one should ever need a ‘single use’ cooler. It pains me to see them sitting next to garbage cans and knowing that they’ve become trash.  And I imagine that after purchasing a few Styrofoam versions, you could probably own a decent cooler of your very own.

My mom actually taught me the amazing insulating ability of newspaper.  Layers of newspaper, wrapped around whatever you need to keep cold in transit, does an incredible job of holding the cold.  This newstrick even works to keep items hot.  I used newspaper to keep our kids’ baby food warm when we went out to dinner, so they could have their food right along with us.  And the best part is that afterward, it can be recycled instead of thrown in the trash.

I just really want Styrofoam coolers to disappear! The problem is this… even if they disappear from store shelves, they still won’t disappear – they’ll live on in a landfill for about 500 years!

Take it home… leave the ‘foam!

Recently our family had lunch at a restaurant and at the end of the meal… lo and behold, leftovers!

There was no need to waste food and leave it behind, but the question loomed: “what am I going to have to carry this home in?”  When the server asked me if I wanted a to-go container, I decided to ask.

Me:  “Is the container Styrofoam?”
Server:  “Yes, it is.  But would you like me to use aluminum foil instead?”
Me:  “Why YES! (*big smile) I would!  I’m “very green” and I detest Styrofoam.”
Server:  “No problem, ma’am.”

No problem!  Imagine that.  We DO have a choice.  I know aluminum foil won’t do for some things, but I now realize there is a choice, and if asked, we’ll probably be given an alternative, greener option.  I was happy not to waste food, but I was just as happy not to accept Styrofoam that will live in a landfill for hundreds of years and release toxins into the ground.

I’ve even recently learned about new containers and tableware (thanks to reader, Beth!) that are made from corn, sugarcane and paper.  They’re biodegradable and compostable and include cups, plates, utensils and napkins… all kinds of good stuff appropriate for your next gathering, available in quantities for home use.  The holidays are around the corner, and who doesn’t love a great party, but add Mother Earth to the guest list by not serving her toxic trash.

So, after I ate the leftovers, the aluminum foil got a quick wash and went to the recycling can. But next time, I want it in the shape of a swan!

Don’t pack trash for lunch!

Well… it’s back-to-school time. Wait. (blink, blink.) I thought it was still June.

Unfortunately…no. I’ve been desperately working on getting in the school mode, but I’m just in such denial that my sweet “baby” girl is going to be gone, all day, five days a week!

We’ve had major discussions about lunchtime and what she would like me to pack. Our school is so-so on nutritious meals, but our daughter has chosen to be a “brown bagger.” However, that’s in name only because we’ve taken lots of steps to insure that she won’t be creating too much waste at lunchtime. In fact, an interesting little stat I found on Greenopia:  “An average kid using disposable lunch wrappers generates 67 pounds of waste per school year.”… YIKES!

So, to our “low-/no-waste” lunch plan.

Buy a lunchbox. There are so many cool ones to choose from, kids can certainly find one to love. Buy a reusable bottle and/or thermo. No matter what beverage you choose, it will accommodate…and there won’t be any disposable bottles/boxes to throw away later. No paper napkins. A quick stop at the dollar store and we have cloth napkins to last her a week. Buy a cheap set of silverware. No need to toss plastic in the trash daily. Or, if you use plastic, wash & reuse. NO Ziplocs or plastic baggies. Like I mentioned before, I bought a bunch of small containers for the kids’ foods and snacks, so these will accompany her to school each day!

I was concerned that within the course of weeks the containers, thermoses, etc. would get left behind at school and never find their way back to us, but I discovered a great product from Stuck On You. They are vinyl name labels that can be placed on all of these items and they are waterproof, microwave- and dishwasher-safe (so you won’t be replacing name labels with every washing!). Our daughter’s are pink with flowers and she LOVES them. They have tons of other great products too (labels, tags, and a great starter pack) if you want to check them out.

So, as I venture into a teary-eyed send-off to our daughter, I at least know that when the year ends, there won’t be 67 lbs. of trash in a local landfill with her name on it.