Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Aucuns Detrius

My toddler, Freddie, makes his way to nursery school three days a week, lunch kit in hand.  When he first set off for the neighborhood school last fall, I found myself wondering how to green his lunchbox - and thinking long and hard about whether our changes would make my mornings unbearable.

As it turns out, we made three changes that virtually any parent can follow.  If they take a little more time in some ways, they save time and effort in others.  Best of all, they hit not one, but two of my principles - Do it Greener, Do it Cheaper.  (More on that in a later post.)

For now, here are our three changes:
  1. We use refillable plastic juice boxes instead of buying the ones at the store.  It's less packaging, which is always a win, but this one is especially green-worthy because it's tough to recycle juice boxes - or any container that incorporates plastic, cardboard and aluminum.  In fact, our son's school automatically disposes of them, while they happily return the plastic containers.
  2. We use refillable containers for apple sauce, mandarin oranges, raisins, etc. instead of using the single serving sizes.  Again, this cuts down on packaging and avoids the issue of whether the very busy nursery school teachers are remembering to rinse and separate each of the little plastic dishes and check the numbers stamped on the bottom.
  3. We aim to make most of our son's lunch minimally processed foods.  Kids might love Lunchables, but they're among the most overpackaged products in the market.  On the other hand, bananas, grapes and carrot sticks require no additional packaging beyond the reusable bowls.
While it does take a few minutes to fill up those containers each morning, the plus is that the containers are permanently labeled - I never have to fish for a Sharpie or a sticker.  For me, the time required to select and label is about equal to the amount of time required to fill.  And yes, they do have to be brought home and washed - but even my forgetful Freddie hasn't (permanently) lost a dish yet.  As long as you remember to tuck them in the dishwasher every night, it's a fairly fuss-free process.

As for the savings?  I'll admit, we're not talking thousands of dollars.  But here's a quick breakdown:
  •  Refilling your own juice box versus buying the pre-packaged ones saves about 7 cents per drink.  Assuming you spend $1.5o on the reusable juice box, it takes about 20 uses - or one month - before you see the savings.
  • Putting raisins in a reusable container versus buying individual boxes saves about 5 cents per serving.  If you spend $1 on the container, again, it takes about a month to make it back.
  • Apple sauce, mandarin oranges, peaches and the like are the real cost-savers.  Filling your own apple sauce container saves about 12 cents per serving; fruit is closer to 30 cents per serving.  You'll recover those costs in two weeks or less.
If you're packing 180 lunches each year, and assume an average savings of 33 cents per lunch, that's nearly $60/year saved, per kid!  Because our son eats all of these school-day staples on the weekends and evenings, too, it's easy to guesstimate that our savings our closer to twice that amount.

So it's green, it's frugal and it's relatively effortless - something to think about as you hit your local store for back-to-school gear. 

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