I have always looked at back-to-school time a little like New Years: A chance to try something new and work some good habits into my life. More and more—and especially now that I am a mom—the habits that I am implementing revolve around being kind to the earth. I really want my kids to see small steps we take every single day can have a big impact, and even at a young age they have the power to make a difference when it comes to protecting the planet. And these days, we are ALL crazy busy, so the five steps that I am sharing here are simple, quick, and inexpensive.
Pack a trash-free lunch. Just say no to the brown bag, the plastic water bottle, and the plastic utensils. At the beginning of each year, we invest in a lunchbox that comes with an insert that has different food compartments, a gel freezer pack, a bpa-free water bottle, and some lightweight utensils. You can also add a cloth napkin! Going trash-free even begins before you pack the lunch; consider shopping at a farmers market (where you can often get really good deals on items in the last hour of the market) or buying snacks in bulk to reduce packaging waste.
Check with your school to see if there is a lunchtime recycling program available. Many schools now have a system set up where students sort the waste they have left after they finish their meal, with compostable items going in the compost bin, recyclables in recycling, liquids in a bucket, and everything else in landfill. Some schools even recycle or compost their lunch trays! If your school does not have a program like this in place, you can reach out to an organization like the non-profit, El Segundo-based Grades of Green (www.gradesofgreen.org) for more information.
Walk or bike to school one day a week. And when you are in the car dropping off or picking up the kids, if you are going to be waiting for more than ten seconds, just turn the car off. Contrary to popular belief, it wastes more gas to just let the car idle for ten seconds or longer instead of just turning it off and then restarting.
As you are wrapping up the morning rush to get out of the house, turn off the lights and unplug appliances. Most of us probably had our own parents tell us repeatedly, “Turn off the lights when you leave a room,” (which was often followed by, “I’m not made of money!”) so we know all about that, but have you heard about vampire energy? This is where an appliance is turned off but still plugged in and using energy. It’s very easy to slay that energy vampire by just unplugging appliances when you are done with them. You can also get a power strip and switch that off to prevent electronics from sucking up energy when not in use, which saves time because you can turn off multiple appliances by flipping one switch.
Reuse and Recycle the backs of homework papers and school projects. When my son started school, we saved everything from notes that I put in his lunchbox to random scribbles he made on a piece of paper. Now that we have two kids in school, however, the boxes of this stuff started taking over the house! Now, we still put everything into a box for each child when they bring things home, and we display special art projects and assignments. After a few months, we go through everything together and the kids and I select a few pieces, which go into their keepsake boxes. We then take what is left and use the backs of papers for doodles and my endless to-do lists, and then recycle the papers after that.
There you go! Five easy steps that can be repeated day after day and week after week with the help of the whole family to show some love to Mama Earth. Here’s to the best school year EVER! And if there are some earth-friendly activities that your family and/or school engage in, I’d love to hear about them.