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  Save mail, school notices, or take home outdated flyers or stationery from work, and use it in your printer.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.