LIVING HEALTHY: Back To School Can be Easy on the Environment and Your Wallet!The kids are back to school, and along with new school supplies, new clothes and daily lunches comes a lot of other stuff that you don’t really need… garbage!
By: AJ Matthews, Living North Magazine
It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. The kids are back to school, and along with new school supplies, new clothes and daily lunches comes a lot of other stuff that you don’t really need…garbage!
Each year, an array of new pencils, notebooks, gym shoes, back packs, and lunch bags displaces the tattered leavings from the previous year. With each new purchase, you’re also left with lots of packaging and shopping bags to sort through and get rid of. Remember that there are many options to reduce this mountain of waste as you set out on your journey back to school.
Many items can be found at resale shops or rummage sales. For supplies that must be purchased new like notebooks and pencils, opt for items with the least amount of packaging to avoid waste. Choose loose leaf paper in reusable binders instead of multiple notebooks. Purchase refillable mechanical pencils and reusable book covers instead of disposable versions. And remember, reusable shopping bags aren’t just for the grocery store. Bring them along when shopping for school clothes and supplies!
When sorting through the leftovers from last year, donate usable items. Somewhere out there, there is a youngster who is just dying to get their hands on your new middle school student’s High School Musical lunch box. Donations are accepted at Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other donation centers. Also remember to check with local shelters and resource centers.
Lunch boxes are also a great place to reduce waste. Individually wrapped cookies, chips, beverages and other snacks can be convenient for busy parents and exciting for kids. These items, however, are more expensive and create an incredible amount of unnecessary waste. According to wastefreelunches.org, it has been estimated that, “on average, a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school.” You can reduce lunch waste with these simple ideas:
• Dole out portions from a family size bag or package to reduce waste, while controlling portion sizes for kids. Place chips or cookies in a reusable container that can be refilled every day.
• Pack sandwiches and fruit in reusable containers instead of disposable bags or cups.
• Transport beverages in reusable metal or plastic bottles so that new bottles and cans aren’t being used every day.
• Use lunch boxes or reusable bags instead of paper and plastic.
• Pack a reusable cloth napkin instead of paper and stainless-steel forks and spoons instead of plastic.
• Food waste can be brought back home for composting instead of filling the trash bins at school. If you don’t compost at home, collect food scraps and drop them off at one of WLSSD’s six area food waste collection sites. Visit wlssd.com for more information.
Waste-free lunches can also be very convenient and economical.
The disposable lunch below costs $3.72 per day:
• 1 egg salad sandwich $1.25
• 1 container of yogurt $ .85
• 1 granola bar $ .45
• 1 package carrots & dip $ .65
• 3 plastic bags $ .12
• 1 juice pouch $ .35
• 1 plastic spoon $ .03
• 1 paper napkin $ .01
A similar waste-free lunch would cost just $2.35 when items are purchased in larger quantities and portions packed in reusable containers:
• 1 egg salad sandwich $1.25
• Yogurt (in a reusable container) $ .50
• Granola (in a reusable container) $ .35
• Carrots & dip (in reusable containers) $ .25
• Water (in a reusable bottle) $ .00
• Cloth napkin $ .00
• Stainless steel spoon $ .00
Over a school year (180 days) a disposable lunch could cost $669.60, while a similar waste-free lunch would cost just $423.00—a savings of $246.60 per student
Consider these simple, waste-free alternatives when you set out to purchase this year’s school supplies. The small efforts you make each day can make a big difference over the course of a school year. Your choices can be easy on the environment and your wallet! For more information on waste free lunches, visit www.wastefreelunches.org/.
AJ Matthews is an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District