School’s in, and we’re packing lots of school lunches again.

We try to pack healthy foods to fuel our kids during the day, but can we do so in a way that creates no waste?  Here are a few tips for packing a zero-waste school lunch.

Reusable lunch and snack boxes.  There are many cute and lead and PVC-free lunch box options available, and they’re a great and cheaper alternative than disposable paper bags.  Properly cared for, they can be used for years.  Here are a few great options compiled by Safe Mama.

Reusable containers.  Ditch the plastic bags, and instead put food in reusable containers, such as those made from stainless steel.  You’ll create less waste, save money in the long-term, and avoid plastic products which can leach toxins into food.

Avoid packaged single-serving foods.  You’ll save money and create less waste by avoiding single-serve, packaged foods.  Instead of a mini-package of carrots, buy a full bag and put some in a small reusable container instead.  Instead of a packaged granola bar, buy a bag of trail mix and put some in a reusable container.

Reusable silverware and napkins.  No need to buy plastic sporks or paper napkins!  Just put a spoon or fork from your silverware set into your kids’ lunch boxes.  And put a cloth napkin in as well.

Bring home compostables.  If your school doesn’t have a composting program but you compost at home, have your child bring home any compostable waste so you can dispose of it.

Many of us go through a lot of paper and ink each year using a home or office printer.  But we can pretty dramatically cut reduce the amount we use – and buy – with a few easy changes.

Of course, it’s worth it to consider whether you really have to print something before you do.  Cloud computing and mobile devices make it less necessary all the time.  But if you do need to print, here are some ways to make it greener and cheaper.

Re-use paper printed on one side, and print double-sided.  If one side of a piece of paper is blank, consider it reusable.  Save mail, school notices, or take home outdated flyers or stationery from work, and use it in your printer.  Printing double-sided will save paper and money, too.

Buy recycled paper and toner cartridges, and add ink.  If you need to use new paper, buy chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content.  Donate your used toner cartridges, and buy re-manufactured ones. 

Download Eco-Font.  Want to cut down on ink consumption and keep ink cartridges out of the landfill?   A Dutch company called Eco-Font has created a font that looks just like any other font to the naked eye, but is actually composed of tiny inkless circles.  It reduces ink use by 20%, and it’s downloadable for free.

Print in “draft” or “economode.”  Unless your document needs to look perfect, printing in a slightly lower resolution will work just fine, and will keep toner cartridges out of the landfill.  Here’s how to set Word to print in draft, and how to set HP printers to print in Economode.  

Change your margins.  By shrinking the margins around the text you’re printing to .75″, you can save almost 5% in paper usage.  If the entire U.S. were to adopt these slightly smaller margins, the Change The Margins campaign estimates a savings of over 6 million trees annually.  Here’s how to change your margins on a PC or a Mac.

 

Mark your calendar and start digging through your boxes:  October 8th is National Costume Swap Day!

An effort to green our Halloween celebrations by reusing costumes, these swap events allow you to donate your used costumes and walk away with a new-to-you costumes for your kids or yourself.  The event is sponsored by Green Halloween, Kiwi Magazine, and Swap.com.

Green Halloween says that reusing half of all kids’ Halloween costumes would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons, equal to the weight of 2500 midsize cars.

And of course swapping costumes can save you money.  The National Retail Federation estimated that Halloween costumes, decorations, and candy would cost the average U.S. family over $66 in 2010.

Costume swaps are occurring all over the country this year, and you can find one by searching the list here.  No swap planned in your area?  Consider organizing one yourself!

Want more ideas for ways to green your Halloween?  Check out Green Halloween for a wealth of tips and projects.  Green Halloween’s founder, Corey Colwell-Lipson, joined us for a podcast interview with her mother Lynn Colwell on how to throw an eco-friendly baby shower.

Commercial baby wipes.  Expensive but indispensable, right?

Well, maybe not.  If you don’t want to shell out money on wipes, worry that the ingredients might not be great for your baby’s sensitive skin, and if you don’t want your used wipes to sit in a landfill for generations to come, consider some alternatives:

  • If you use cloth diapers, just use small cloth diapers (the newborn size works well) and a container of water.  Keep the water in a container – a plastic shoe box, small kitty litter box, or Pyrex pan would would work – on your diaper changing table.  Then just dip the diapers in water, clean your baby, and throw them into the diaper pail.
  • If you don’t use cloth, get some old, softer material – old t-shirts, towels, sheets are all fine – and use pinking shears (zig zag scissors)  to cut out small squares.  Or, sew the edges using a zig zag stitch.  If the fabric isn’t thick enough, sew several layers together.  Use as described above.  Store used wipes in a small diaper pail by the changing station until laundry time.
  • If you use cloth wipes at home but want pre-moistened wipes when you’re out of the house, consider making your own wipes from paper towels, here are some instructions.   Carry in a wipes container or wet bag.
  • If you want to add a wipe solution (which isn’t necessary in most cases), here are some recipes.  If you use a baby shampoo in the solution, be sure it’s free of harmful chemicals.

If this sounds daunting, there are brands of wipes which are “greener” than most.  Check out Safe Mama’s list of wipes with the least harmful ingredients.

 

Halloween can be a fun and exciting, especially for families with young children.  With candy and costumes tempting young ones at every turn, it can also be frustrating for parents.  One way to avoid those wasteful and potentially harmful costume purchases is by getting children excited and invested in creating their own costume with everyday items found in the home. Not only is this better for the environment (and our pocket book!) but it provides an opportunity for creativity and problem solving as well.

Have your child(ren) brainstorm ideas – what do they want to dress up as for Halloween?  Once they have decided on a few options, work together to determine if there are items you already have that could be used to create a costume.  Here are a few of our favorite materials to use for dress up, and some costumes you can create with them:

Materials

Socks: These can be used to create antennae, ears, tails, tentacles and more!

Toilet paper cores: periscopes, binoculars, super hero cuffs, and telescopes to name a few…

Paper Bags: Great for creating costumes such as the tiger pictured above, a robot, crayon box, or any primarily rectangular shape – for older children the bag works best as a mask, for younger children the bags can be cut out on the sides to accommodate arms.

Sheets: in addition to the traditional ghost costume, use sheets to create dresses, togas, bat wings, mummy wraps, and bandages.

Mom or Dad’s t-shirts: create super hero capes, art smocks, and lab coats, or stuff to create a big belly or a funny shape.

 

Costume Ideas

Octopus: attach 6 stuffed tube socks to a sweatshirt of the same color. A matching hat will help tie the look together.  Now you have 8 arms instead of 2!

Penguin: cut out a white piece of paper in an oval shape and cut off ends for a flat top and bottom.  Attach to a black sweatshirt, and place a yellow“beak” at the top of your child’s forehead.

Super Hero: Make a cape and mask from an old t-shirt, create cuffs from toilet paper cores (add a slit down the length to attach) and create a belt from any remaining t shirt material and some colored paper.

Robot: Cut out a paper bag to resemble either the body or the head of your robot, depending on the size of the child.  Create the remainder of the robot by attaching colored paper controls.

Have you created your own Halloween costumes?  We’d love to hear your ideas, and how the costumes turned out!

Are you planting bulbs for next spring?  If tulips are on your list, check out Journey North’s international citizen science project which tracks tulip growth as a measure of climate and climate change.

Participants in this project, including many kids at school, plant tulips in the fall.  When the plants emerge and bloom in the spring, kids record and report their observations.  In doing so they can “watch the wave of spring as it moves across the globe.”

Blooming patterns reveal trends about climate, and the data you collect through this project becomes part of a long-term database which can be used to study changes in climate.

Journey North offers a kids’ section, a teacher’s guide, and maps of plantings and growth.  They host several other citizen science projects, including ones on hummingbird, monarch, American robin, gray whale, and whooping crane migration, at other times of the year.

To celebrate Breast Cancer Prevention month, we’re giving away five dolls from our PINK collection. A percentage of the sales of the PINK collection benefits breast cancer research all year long. We also work to educate parents about prevention (none of our products contain any phthalates, BPA, etc.).

The PINK collection is organic (no pesticides or toxins) and machine washable because we know that toys get a lot of love and a good bath is necessary.

What seeds of change does your family do now? What seeds of change are you trying to master?

Please note whether you’d prefer the blonde or brunette doll. We’ll pick the winners on Friday, October 28th. If you don’t have a little girl in your life to love the doll, just note that in your comments and we’re happy to send an Activity Ballinstead.

Since many of us are spending our weekends raking leaves these days, we thought we’d share this list of way to use your leaves in the garden and in your home.

Bagging, hauling, and disposing of leaves uses landfill space, fuel, and other resources, costs towns (taxpayer) money, removes nutrients from the environment.  These alternatives make better environmental sense.

1.  Leave them where they are to provide a home for insects, amphibians, and as root insulation for trees.

2.  Compost them along with nitrogen-rich materials (like lawn clippings, food scraps), and have great mulch by spring.

3.  Mow them into your lawn, and see less weeds next year.

4.  Use as winter cover for your vegetable garden plot.  Worms love leaves, and plants love worm castings!

5.  Use as a winter blanket for your more fragile outside plants.

6.  Make leaf rubbings.

7.  Make leaf sun catchers for your windows.

8.  Use them to stuff a scarecrow (and then compost them).

9.  Make a leaf wreath.

10.  And don’t forget to make big piles and jump in them!

Do you use paper towels to clean up every day messes?  Want to cut down to save money and resources?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that paper accounts for the largest share of household waste.  In 2006, 34% of our trash was paper.

Paper towels are one source of paper waste, and most can’t be recycled once used.  Their production uses resources, from plant fiber to petroleum in the production process.  Some paper towels are bleached, which adds dioxins to our environment.

There are more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as recycled, non-bleached paper towels, but why not try to ditch or dramatically reduce their use altogether?

What are some alternatives to paper towels?  It depends up on the job.  Here are some common uses and alternatives:

  • Wiping counters, tables, high chairs:  Use dish towels, rags, old clothes or sheets, cloth diapers, or burp cloths.  Don’t have enough dishtowels?  Look for them at thrift stores.
  • Cleaning windows:  Switch to newspaper and you’ll love how streak-free you can get you windows.
  • Napkins:  Switch to cloth napkins, which you can get cheaply at Ikea (49 cents) or make yourself.
  • Soaking up grease when frying:  Try newspaper or scratch paper (save from school notices, outdated stationery from an office).  If newspaper cones work as french fry holders for the French and Belgians, why not us?

Do you have other alternatives to paper towels to share?

This time of year, as things get hectic and there are toys and temptations at every corner it’s a great time to slow down and focus on the many blessings in our lives.  Having conversations with our children about what they are thankful for can be heartwarming and at times even comical.  Creating a book to detail these stories is easy, and makes a wonderful keepsake or gift for a loved one.  Even the youngest of children can help with this project, which makes it even more special.

Take blank scrap papers and fold each of them in half.  Using a hole punch, make several evenly spaced holes just inside the folded edge.  Thread the paper together using string, yarn, ribbon or whatever you have on hand.

Crease each of the pages open to form a fold and have your child decorate each page.  If they are old enough to write, they can write a note or tell a story. If not, you can ask questions and fill in the story for them.

Just don’t forget to make one to keep for yourself!