Ask Eco Gal, Back-to-School

Eco-friendly Lunches

After Labor Day weekend, nearly all school-aged children return to school and many started back in August. Though lunches available in some school districts have improved, many families prefer to send their children with homemade lunches. The food industry has listened to consumers and has begun offering healthier lunch and snack options.

Unfortunately, many of these products are packaged in single-use containers unable to be recycled or that which are not easily recycled in many communities. Juice boxes, while convenient, are not easy to recycle. Stainless steel, aluminum or Nalgene containers are available in 6-8 ounce sizes that are almost equal to the serving in juice boxes.

Fruit juices come in 64-ounce bottles (some larger) that can be poured into a smaller reusable container. Advice for parents that bears repeating — read the labels before buying foods or beverages! Just because the label reads, “No sugar added,” doesn’t mean the product has no sugar. Look for the brand with the lowest sugar content. Ditto for fat.

Resist the temptation to buy pre-packaged single servings of snacks such as crackers, cookies, flavored-gelatin and applesauce. Again, reusable containers come in kid-sized portions (6-8 ounces). Fill these with items bought in larger containers. Not only will you save money, you will also omit much of the unnecessary packaging. Better yet, reuse an empty (clean) yogurt container with lid to hold small cookies, dried fruit, trail mix or other nutritious snacks. Celery and carrot sticks or apple slices can be packed in containers or wrapped in foil, for dipping in yogurt or peanut butter that has been packed separately.

Sandwiches have come a long way from the p-b-j many grownups recall. Today’s lunches don’t require bread … pitas, wraps, mini pizzas and other creations take the place of traditional sandwiches. Bite-sized pieces of low-fat cheese and sliced turkey can be filling without the bread. Homemade chicken or tuna salad can be spread on whole-wheat crackers. Another reuse tip: Save the wooden sticks (wash and air-dry) from frozen treats for kids to use as spreaders. There are no sharp points and, if lost or trashed, they’re replaceable.

Turn lunch-making time into a family event. Even the youngest children can help assemble ingredients and fill containers. Be creative and let your children participate in the selection process … they’re more likely to eat foods that they help choose.

Persuade teens to bring lunch from home rather than eat at nearby fast-food restaurants. Tell them the money saved can go toward clothing, games, music or other treasured items.

Now, how does this bounty of healthful lunch options travel from your home to your child’s school? These days the backpack seems to be standard equipment for school children. Even so, to avoid smashed, broken or leaky items, pack all individual containers into a soft-sided bag or box. Stay clear of metal lunch boxes as lead-based paint is a potential hazard. Colorful canvas or nylon bags can be purchased at grocery, department or drug stores.

School Supplies for Budding Environmentalists

Dear Eco Gal,
It’s time to shop for back-to-school supplies. I’m concerned about the environment and bring my lunch in reusable containers and recycle as much as possible. Where can I shop for earth-friendly school supplies?
Green Student

Dear Green Student,
Sounds as though you’re a budding environmentalist. Kudos for your commitment to buy green school supplies. Even big-box retailers carry a greater selection of green products. Be aware though, that not all items carried online are available at retail stores. Some savvy retailers let you order products online for pickup at your local store, so check out this option.

Pentel, a well-known maker of writing instruments, has introduced a new product line called Recycology “the science of reduce, reuse and recycle.” The line carries refillable highlighters with a plastic case made of 54 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. Two kinds of liquid gel pens are made of 50 percent and 57 percent recycled material, while several styles of automatic pencils are made from recycled content ranging from 16 percent up to 72 percent plastic. Visit to see the complete product line.

If you use a pen or pencil made from recycled content material, shouldn’t the paper you’re writing on be equal to the task? Ampad sells a variety of wirebound notebooks made from 50 percent recycled fiber with 30 percent post-consumer content. Their line of legal pads comes in three sizes and is made with up to 100 percent recycled paper. Ampad products are sold at Staples, but check their Web site first at

Give vinyl three-ring binders the heave-ho with a Presstex round ring binder from Acco. Made with moisture-resistant pressboard that contains 50 percent recycled content using 19 percent post-consumer waste, these earth-friendly binders keep homework organized. To create even more order in your binders, Avery makes recycled content protectors. Both items are sold online at

Students and teachers will give high marks to AusPen Markers. They are made from 100 percent recyclable material, use nontoxic ink and are both refillable and recyclable. Designed for use with whiteboards, one refillable AusPen Marker can keep approximately 20 pounds of toxic waste out of the landfill. Go to for details.

Music, streaming videos, photos and homework assignments can eat up storage space on your computer. If an upgrade is in your future, try Western Digital’s Caviar(r) Green with 500GB storage. Green drives from WD yield average drive power savings of 4-5 watts over competitors’ drives while maintaining solid performance. This power savings equates to reducing carbon emission by up to 60 kilograms per drive per year, which is the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 14 days each year. WD products are sold at Staples, Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot, CompUSA and other electronics retailers. Remember to check whether the product is available in-store or online before you shop.

When recording videos or saving text and photos, look for rewritable CDs and DVDs. Maxell and Verbati(r) make media storage disks specifically designed to be reusable. These products are sold at office supply and electronics retail stores.

If you’re planning ahead for 2009, be sure to find calendars or planners printed on recycled paper. Some are even printed using nontoxic ink. Brands to look for include At-A-Glance and Visual Organizer and can be found at office supply vendors.

A good thing to remember when shopping is to look for the chasing arrows that symbolize-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle — and you’ll earn a green star!

Contact Eco Gal at


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