Eco-Friendly Tips for Back-to-School: Lunches and Transportation

Use these eco-friendly tips to save the environment and money this school year.

Lunchtime is a great time to make a positive impact on the environment, and your wallet too. It may mean throwing a few more things in the dishwasher in the evening, but I think that’s a small sacrifice to make when we’re talking about the future of our planet. Plus, you’ll teach your children that being wasteful, just because it’s easier, is not the best option. Here are a few changes you can make:

Stop using disposable plastic baggies! Even if you use a more eco-friendly version, it still takes a lot of petroleum (a non-renewable resource) and a very energy intensive method (which means more pollution) to manufacture these bags, and any other type of plastic (that means avoid disposable whenever possible). Start using small reusable containers instead, made from recycled plastic if you can find them. Glad products are BPA free and do not contain phthalates, which can leach into your food when microwaved. Plastic containers can be washed and reused for quite some time, and they’ll also keep your child’s sandwich from getting squished if someone accidentally sits on it on the bus.

Do away with the juice box. This will save you gobs of cash while keeping all that garbage out of the landfills. Instead, send your son or daughter to school with a cool new aluminum bottle from filled with their favorite juice. They’re BPA and phthalate free and completely recyclable! Not that you’ll need to recycle them any time soon. Buy a few, in case you don’t have time to clean them one night.

Make your own snacks! Use the weekend to spend some time with your children baking cookies, brownies, creating your own trail mix, whatever you like. They’ll appreciate the quality time and the fresh goodies each week. Remember to put them in your reusable containers. If you insist on using baggies, you can reuse one baggy for the whole week. Cookie crumbs never hurt anybody! Following this tip will save you money at the grocery store and keep the non-recyclable cookie package waste from increasing your carbon footprint.

Pack your kid’s lunch in a recycled, reusable lunch bag like this one from Bazura. They’re made from recycled juice boxes that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Find other green lunch bag options at And last but not least, throw in a cloth napkin that can be washed and reused. If you prefer paper, choose a product that’s made from 100% recycled material and does not contain chlorine, like those offered by Seventh Generation.

Walking or riding a bike to school is not only the greenest option, it’s also the healthiest. If you’re not in a rush in the morning and you live within walking distance of school, there’s no reason to use your car. Check out what school looks like for students in other countries!

If you insist on driving your child to the bus stop, consider this before you sit there with the engine running: Idling your car for 10 minutes produces 9.5 ounces of carbon dioxide. That may not sound like much, but it adds up. Think about how much idling you do all day, everyday, sitting in traffic, stopping at lights, waiting on drive-through lines, and you’re not the only one doing this either. Studies show that if you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds, it makes more sense to turn off your vehicle than to sit there wasting gas, money and polluting (unless, of course, it would be hazardous to do so).

And here’s a little-known fact to keep in mind this winter: 30 seconds is all your engine needs to warm up. The rest of your car’s parts need to move to warm up, therefore driving is actually the best way to warm up your car in the winter.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest