Is dining out unsustainable?


I feel I am becoming more and more concerned about trash, and have to do penance anytime something is thrown out.

My current “aha” is food waste- and dining out is a big part of it!  As a parent, in the currently unstable economy, most people know that moving to a “home cooked” philosophy makes for the best remedy for better health and nutrition.

Unfortunately, as a student ans stressed out mom, this last month has had me put cooking on the back burner, and instead focus on my studies, and just getting through the day?

But besides nutrition, at what cost is my behavior impacting the environment?


According to a study done by the EPA, Food Waste is becoming the #1 material in land fills.

“Food waste is huge,” says Schwab, a senior analyst in the waste division at the Environmental Protection Agency. “Food waste is now the No. 1 material that goes into landfills and incinerators.” In a recent interview with NPR, Schwab explained that food waste from restaurants makes up 15 percent of all the food that ends up in landfills. And all that food doesn’t just take up space and attract pests — it’s also changing the climate. “Because it rots so fast, basically it starts to generate methane really quickly,” says Schwab. Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Source: NPR

Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And reducing methane emissions from sources like landfills is one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s biggest priorities in the fight against climate change.

NPR also reports that apx three cents of every dollar consumers spend on food away from home ends up in the trash. And that doesn’t even include the food left on your plate or the slimy lettuce forgotten in the fridge.

In my family, we try to be very aware of what we have in our fridge or pantry- most of my friends are hard up when they come over, just because of our lack of “perceived” options- but that’s only to force us to eat everything we buy, and not waste!

The figures are staggering, and will definitely make you want to thin twice before stopping off at that local fast food joint!

Here’s a few collected on July 13, 2009, by Green Eco Services:

I Just Gotta Tell Ya

  • A single restaurant disposes of more than 50 tons of organic waste every year.
  • Food waste is 76% organic and can be recycled
  • Meanwhile cost of food has increased 8%
  • 27 percent of all food is thrown out, which works out to a pound of food every day for every American.
  • Full service restaurants waste more food than fast food eateries. Food scraps make up 66 percent of restaurants’ trash, compared to 52 percent at fast food places.

Why don’t restaurants donate food the the needy? It seems they cite liablity and other issues. I wonder if they are just lazy and don’t want to take the time.

But at the restaurant level, what can be done? (Perhaps donation to food banks!)

Earth Talk magazine reported on the issue recently: EarthTalk® E/The Environmental Magazine,

Dear EarthTalk: I work at a fast food place and I am appalled by the amount of unpurchased food we throw away. The boss says we can’t give it away for legal reasons. Where can I turn for help on this, so the food could instead go to people in need?
— Ryan Jones, Richland, WA (11/14/2010)

Many restaurants, fast food or otherwise, are hesitant to donate unused food due to concerns about liability if people get sick after eating it—especially because once any such food is out of the restaurant’s hands, who knows how long it might be before it is served again. But whether these restaurants know it or not, they cannot be held liable for food donated to organizations, and sometimes all it might take to change company policy would be a little advocacy from concerned employees.

A 1995 survey found that over 80 percent of food businesses in the U.S. did not donate excess food due to liability concerns. In response, Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which releases restaurants and other food organizations from liability associated with the donation of food waste to nonprofits assisting individuals in need. The Act protects donors in all 50 states from civil and criminal liability for good faith donations of “apparently wholesome food”—defined as meeting “all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other condition.”

Unused or even partially eaten food waste can
also be utilized even if it’s not edible by human standards. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture approves of food businesses giving or selling food
waste to local farmers for use in composting or as animal feed. If such food
contains or has come into contact with meat, it should be boiled for 30 minutes
to reduce the risk of bacterial infections in the animals that eat it. Many
states have complementary laws on the books regulating the donation of food
waste at the local level.

Diverting food waste to feed hungry people or for animal feed or compost is a winning scenario for all concerned parties as it not only provides relief to overburdened landfills but also helps meet social welfare, agricultural and environmental needs. Also, those restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses that donate food will likely reap the additional reward of saving money on their actual waste removal bill as their trash bins and dumpsters won’t be filling up quite so fast.

Get Involved

Feeding America- Feeding America, the nation’s largest charitable hunger relief organization. Feeding America supports a network of 206 food banks in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Before September 2008, Feeding America was named America’s Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network. The organization adopted a rebranding effort in order to help better educate and engage the public about our role in the fight against hunger. The new brand will allow them to build the support they need to feed 1 million more people each year, to significantly increase participation in federal nutrition programs, and to inspire the public to take action.

CONTACTS: CalRecycle,; Mama’s Health,; North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881


Barclay, E. (2012, 11 27). For restaurants, food   waste is seen as low priority. Retrieved 12 3, 2012, from NPR:

Cathy. (2009, July 13). Food Waste in Restaurants. Retrieved 12 3, 2012, from




Greening my kids school: launching ACM Acre Learning Garden

Last Friday, my girls and I proudly joined the PTA’s newly formed Green Acre board at our elementary school.

As an extension of RISD (Richardson Independent School District)’s Environmental program,, our local PTA at Arapaho Classical Magnet ( partnered with the Green School Initiative ( in an effort to elaborate on their pillar of “Greening the School Yard” (see additional information at :

Help has also come from partnering with the EPA through their EPA Environmental Education (EE) Grant Program: (

Through the assistance of the Home Depot Foundation, as part of their communityYouth Garden Grant  (, the school not only received money and resources (topsoil, mulch, fruit trees), the Home Depot team actually came out and helped us build the garden beds! Here are a few pictures of our fabulous time spent (kids, parents, teachers, and Home Depot volunteers) last Friday laying the groundwork for the garden! Everyone had a blast!

The initial challenges were to getting everything in order to meet the EPA grant requirements:

  • The garden had to be completely organic (no pesticides)
  • The garden has to be completely self sustaining (makes use of rainwater and roof runoff). This required us to invest in a rainwater conservation system, generously donated by Comerica bank.
  • We had to have a certain fund established ($5000 for startup, to $25000 to sustain) in order to break ground, which is separate from any of the other school funds or programs already in place.

Active fundraising and solicitation helped us to bridge the Home Depot Foundation (who donated fruit trees, wood, soil, and other materials as well as manually labor to build the project!), as well as establish some future relationships which will expand the garden’s life throughout the school year,

For example, Central Market ( has signed up to donate herbs for an herb garden, and later come in once the crop is ready to do a cooking presentation for the children incorporating the herbs and stressing the need for healthy eating.


Future Goals

Future goals also include establishing a composting garden:

Earth 911 takes about composting in their article: Why compost in the first place?

“If recycling hasn’t kept your household trash cans as empty as you expected, food waste is likely to blame. The EPA estimates that each American throws away an average of 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily. Composting allows you to recapture these resources and reuse them as fertilizer in your own garden or another garden in your community – keeping loads of useful materials out of the landfill.”

The school is also looking into a worm bin for composting the food products left over from kids’ school lunches:

“Let worms eat your organic waste! They will happily turn it into some of the best fertilizer on earth – worm compost, otherwise known as “worm castings” or “vermicompost.”

Only a few things are needed to make good worm compost: a bin, bedding, worms and worm food.”

More information on worm bins can be found at Eart911:

Related articles

Sustainability: jobs versus homelessness

Have you ever seen a dark and somewhat dingy figure hanging out by the metro link station?

Or perhaps they’ve plunked down at the bus stop?

Now, has that individual tried to get your attention?

Had I just missed my train, I might never have even noticed this woman.

In fact, had I not been chatting away with my classmate on that corner for more than 5 minutes, I probably would not have given her the time of day.

I finally tuned in enough to realize that this woman was trying to sell me something, a legitimate newspaper.

The concept of starting a newspaper business as a job is not new. Somewhat out of fashion now, with the prevalence of the internet, often times having a newspaper route is a young person’s first experience holding a job.

Think “entrepreneur”.

The concept behind papers for the homeless is to “Give a Hand Up”, and not just a hand out. It’s a means of letting people be self employed, independant.

There are a number of newspapers who offer this service around the country:


“Vendors”- a person who signs up to sells the newspapers receives the first 10 for free.

The papers generally sell for $1 or other donation per issue, so those first ten papers equal a ten dollar profit.

After that, any other papers they wish to sell cost the vendor twenty five cents, equally a seventy-five cent profit per paper.

And, while that does not seem much to you or I, it offers the individual more than income: it helps restore a sense of pride.

The particular issue I purchased was called Street Zine, which is the Dallas version.

Based out of downtown Dallas, Street Zine is sponsored and supported by Stewpot, a religiously affiliated organization offering shelter, meals, job support, and education for people in crisis or need.

All the papers mentioned above are members of a larger organization called NASNA, or the North American Street Newspaper Association.

NASNA logo

NASNA logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Launched in 1996, the organization focuses on offering people a viable outlet out of the ring of poverty, and gives them a voice- many of the articles in the paper deal with homeless issues, raising awareness of this problem in modern society.


The danger with homelessness is in how we have a tendency of “objectifying” people- where we no longer look at them as fellow human beings,

We are afraid of them, and what they represent. “There go you and I, but for the grace of God”.

But, relationships across class and cultural lines are built through the simple interaction of purchasing a newspaper. NASNA states that their goal is to get the general public to know the individual on the corner, not as a bum or a drug addict, but as Joe or Jane, and recognizes that individuals on the streets are no different than themselves.

These are people who love, laugh, cry, feel sadness, and have similar interests to anyone of us.

Once we “step out of our comfort zone”, and buy one of their papers, the individual on the streets recognizes that being homeless doesn’t mean becoming a victim, but instead that they to belong to a community. Their hopes, dreams and opinions matter, just like all of us.

So, next time someone is trying to get your attention on the corner, offering to sell you a paper, BUY ONE, like I did. And help a person out.

Tricks or Treats?

Happy Halloween!

What’s the scariest thing in your trick-or-treat bag?

Vampires, zombies, horror movies and haunted houses: sure, they make for a good scare, largely because they aren’t real. But you may not think about one real scary thing that we’ll all see this Halloween… and it’s hiding in your trick-or-treat bag.

Take a guess: which of these treats has something frightful lurking inside?

An apple

A homemade cookie

A bag of candy corn English: Candy corn, specifically Brach's cand...

There have always been urban legends about the perils of Halloween treats, but this is no legend. It’s the real, ghoulish truth that you should know about. Want a real scare?

Genetically engineered food is hiding in your candy bowl! Genetically engineered (GE) foods are scary year-round, but they’re downright terrifying on Halloween.

Those tasty treats for the ghosts and ghouls in your neighborhood?

The spookiest thing about this is that we don’t know if they were made with GE ingredients or not! Most candy in the United States is made with high-fructose corn syrup, and in 2010, a frightening 86% of all corn grown in this country was genetically engineered. So there’s a good chance that your confection of choice was genetically engineered — but because GE foods aren’t required to be labeled, there’s no way to know. And you know what’s downright petrifying?

These Frankenfoods aren’t required to have adequate safety testing, either. Urge your elected officials to stop the tricks and require labeling for all genetically engineered treats this Halloween, and all year round!

find our more at: Food & Water Watch

Food & Water Watch
Food & Water Watch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lunchables: going green with kids lunch alternatives

Inspired by my fellow bloggers, I have decided to try and up the anti in our efforts to bring sustainbility into our lunch practices.  My husband (Mr. Zero carbon footprint himself) has been reusing bread bags for his lunch for the past year, as well as bringing home plastics once used so that they have a longer “lifecycle” – meaning a zip lock bag should be able to be used at least up to 5 times!

For myself, to try and meet the cute “lunch buddies” that I am competiting with in the market place, I have been able to reuse Starbucks bento boxes and repack my kids greens and crackers. (so far, so good).


Pack A Recyclable Lunch


Pack “zero-waste” lunches — schools that have enforced zero-waste lunchroom policies have reduced trash volume by up to 90 percent. 

How much can I save?

How much could you save by going waste-free with your child’s lunches? Let’s do the math:

Disposable Lunch: $4.02 /day or $723.60 /year

Waste-Free Lunch: $2.65 /day or $477.00 /year

You save: $246.60 per year – that’s 1/3 of your food budget! As you can see, you’ll quickly recoup what you invest in reusable lunchboxes, bottles, and other food packaging containers.


What difference does this really make to the environment?

The average child’s lunchtime trash totals up to 67 pounds per school year. For the average elementary school, that’s almost 10 tons a year – just from lunchbox waste! (Source: NY State Department of Conservation)

Many of the the items included in an average school kid’s lunch are substances that are tossed into the trash can. Sophie Javna, author of “The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth,” writes that school children throw away 380 billion plastic bags and 2.7 million juice boxes each year. Packing a recyclable lunch teaches your children to recycle their lunch products rather than just throwing them away. Teach your kids to pack lunches in recyclable containers, such as brown paper bags, and to use them for several days. Instruct your children to bring home plastic bags and juice boxes to put in the recycle bin or to use again. Aluminum foil and soda cans can also be recycled.

Read more:

5 Sack Lunches Kids Love

Distract finicky eaters by putting together a meal that’s so much fun to eat, they won’t be thinking about whether it’s on their short list of “likes.”

Fun foods don’t have to be deep-fried or full of preservatives. Just think bite-size, dippable, and varied. Natural foods aisles in many grocery stores have a lot of healthier products, such as snacks sweetened only with fruit juice or packaged with fewer trans-fats and preservatives.

Here are five ideas for health-conscious meals that are easy to prepare and fun for kids. Whether your child is a try-anything eater or has the pickiest appetite ever seen, these lunches are sure to please.

MONDAY: Deconstructed Sandwiches

Instead of buying prepacked sets of crackers, cheese, and deli meats, put together a homemade version. Your child can even help out the night before, picking out the crackers, meat, cheese, and a small dessert. Another fun idea is to use mini cookie cutters (about the same size as the crackers) to cut the lunch meat slices into fun shapes. (The leftovers make a good mid-morning nibble for you!)

Some options:

  • veggie or water cracker rounds
  • chicken or turkey deli meat, cut into roughly cracker-size pieces
  • part-skim mozzarella or cheddar slices, cut into roughly cracker-size squares
  • fruit cup (packed in juice) or unsweetened applesauce

TUESDAY: Grilled Cheese Pockets

  • As a variation on the standard pan-browned cheese sandwich, try using a sandwich maker; some machines even make the crispy triangles sealed around the edges. Use whole-grain bread and low-fat or part-skim cheeses, which are healthier than their whole-milk counterparts and melt better than completely fat-free versions. Include a couple of fruit leathers and a handful of baked pita or potato chips in the lunch bag, too.

WEDNESDAY: Turkey-Cran Tortilla Bites

  • Instead of packing a bulky wrap or burrito, slice up a tightly rolled tortilla and fillings. The trick is to spread all the ingredients evenly, rather than pile them into the middle like in a traditional wrap sandwich.
  • Lay the tortilla flat, then spread a thin layer of cranberry sauce over the whole surface. Top with one layer of lettuce leaves, then with pulled turkey (in smallish pieces) or deli meat slices. Roll tightly, then cut into one- or two-bite pieces, holding each piece closed with kid-safe toothpicks. (For vegetarian kids, try it with a thicker spread of hummus, thin slices of peppers and cucumber, and lettuce.) Toss in a box of raisins and a few animal-shaped crackers on the side.

THURSDAY: Dipping Day

Everything in this lunch is bite-size and gets dunked. Pack them loosely in separate containers for younger children, or in rows on “skewers” for older ones.

  • Chicken nibblers with honey mustard
  • Baked tortilla chips and tomato salsa
  • Baby carrots and cut-up celery sticks with light ranch dressing
  • Sliced apple, banana, and peach with fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt stirred with all-fruit jam)

FRIDAY: Layered Lunch

Turn the traditional sandwich on its head—literally—by piling the halves onto one another. It even works without the crusts! (Just cut them off before building.) This is a great way to liven up old standards like peanut butter and jelly, or try a club sandwich variation.

Cut two whole-grain bread slices diagonally in half, then line up the four resulting triangles. Spread a little bit of mustard on the first triangle and top with one piece of deli meat and cheese. On the next triangle, use mayo and a different kind of deli meat. The third triangle gets sliced veggies, such as tomato and cucumber, and lettuce. Stack these three, covering them with the last triangle. Spear the tower with two kid-safe toothpicks and cut in half. Include some pretzel sticks and chopped dried fruit.

Pack a Natural Lunch

If you want to send your kids to school with a healthy, nutritious, natural lunch, here are a few ideas.

By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1981

Read more:

Read more:

Sandwich Ideas

Probably the single most popular item of lunch-box fare is the sandwich. This simple noonday treat can be more appetizing—and nutritious—than the old white-bread-and-bologna standard. To prepare a slightly sweet and energy-boosting sandwich, spread peanut (or any nut) butter on whole wheat bread, and top it with banana slices, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Or, as a variation, cover the protein-packed filling with grated carrot (or cucumber slices) and alfalfa sprouts.

Sprouts can also make a delicious and crunchy addition to cheese sandwiches: Just spread the bread with mayonnaise, add thinly sliced cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey Jack, then pile on a thick layer of tender alfalfa sprouts.

Cheese sandwiches can benefit from the addition of raw vegetables, too. Butter your slices of bread (or use mayonnaise), and add the cheese, either sliced or grated, plus any one—or all—of the following vegetables: sliced cucumbers, avocado, tomato, grated carrot, and diced onion.

Other Options

Of course, sandwiches—as nutritious and filling as they are—don’t have to be the only main courses your children ever carry to school, because many leftover dinner dishes can be recycled for the next day’s lunch. A piece of cold quiche travels well, as do macaroni and cheese wedges. You might also like to cut a slice or two of the previous evening’s lentil nut or millet loaf (or even a few spoonfuls of rice salad) to be served alone or stuffed into pita bread pockets. Or simply prepare a bag of finger food (such as cauliflower and broccoli florets, whole mushrooms, carrot sticks, asparagus spears, cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, celery stalks, and green pepper rings) along with a yogurt or sour cream dip.

When packing snacks, don’t succumb to the “easy out” of grabbing individual bags of potato chips or cookies. Instead, throw in a small container of homemade popcorn to satisfy the munchies. Fresh fruit makes a delicious dessert, too … and it just may be sweet enough to help your child avoid the urge to visit the candy machine! Toss together whole strawberries, blueberries, banana sections, melon cubes, and pineapple chunks, then turn that fresh fruit salad into a special treat by adding a cream cheese or carob-honey sauce. Whole wheat or bran muffins—with nuggets of dried fruit inside—are also great school lunch desserts. They’re a lot more wholesome than are cake squares or candy bars!

Drink Up!

While you’re concocting imaginative dishes for your child’s noontime meals, remember that take-along lunches don’t have to be accompanied by plain milk, sugary fruit punch, or (worse) soda pop. You can, instead, fill your child’s thermos with a hot, hearty soup …or—while the weather’s still warm—try one of the following cooling drinks that Deborah has devised. (You can easily mix a large batch of any one of these in the blender make a healthful breakfast for yourself at the same time).

To whip up a carob-bananashake, blend together 1 1/2 cups of milk, 1 teaspoon each of honey and carob, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and half a banana. Or, if you think that your child would prefer a creamy drink, combine 1 cup of plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons of honey, and 1 cup of any juicy fresh fruit (such as peaches, strawberries, or oranges). A honeydew delight—which can provide a pleasant change from milk-based drinks—requires 1/2 cup each of chopped melon and orange juice, plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.

A thick and tasty peanut butter shake will provide enough protein to keep your youngster going all day! To make one, blend 1/2 cup each of milk and plain yogurt with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of honey. You might also want to try a tomato supreme …which is made by mixing together 1 cup of diced ripe tomatoes, 1/2 stalk of chopped celery, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and a dash of salt. Finally, you can include a nice surprise in your child’s lunch box by making spiced apple juice. Simply soak a cinnamon stick in one cup of apple juice overnight, then remove it before pouring the beverage into the thermos.

As you can see from the recipes provided here, box lunches don’t have to be either dreary and unappetizing or low in nutritional value. If you want to be certain your children are eating as well at school as they are at home, send the young scholars off each day with a lunch box full of homemade foods that you know you can trust. Sure, it may take you a few minutes longer to prepare such meals in the morning, but you can likely get the youngsters themselves actively involved in the task … which would not only ease your workload, but would help them become aware of sound eating habits, too!

Read more:

Another great callout is made by the company One Small Step, in their article/video series:

Who Needs the Junk?

With their new video Who Needs the Junk, takes us on a journey through a day in the life of … your garbage. It all starts out so innocently: a brown bag here, a juice box there. But here is the challenge:

Boycott the Baggie with One Small Step!  We’re not looking for a massive change – just a small step to do your part and commit to stop using one disposable a day. Which disposable will you boycott? It can be a baggie, a paper napkin, a grocery bag, a disposable bottle or cup, a utensil – it is your choice!

All those plastic baggies, napkins, bottles, cups, utensils and bags add up. See our video to the left – we collected one school year’s worth of trash for one child. We’re on a mission to get rid of this useless trash and make lunch time (and our lifetime) a little cleaner and greener. We hope you’ll help and take the pledge.

Welcome to One Small Step – The one stop shop for all your reusable lunchware needs and green school supplies. Take One Small Step toward waste-free lunches while you save money, improve your family’s nutrition, and reduce waste. GO GREEN.

Great variety of fun, stylish products at competitive prices
Opportunities to save money on disposables and expensive single-size portions

Give back to schools/non-profits – 10-20% of purchases benefit community organizations
Reduce your impact on the environment
Eating healthy has never been so easy
Educate your children and they will educate their friends and eventually their children
Non-toxic products – No lead, BPA, Phthalates, PVC or other nasty stuff in our products

And, for all you DIYers out there, the site offers some great ways to try this at home, using your own materials and recyling:

How to make a Reusable Sandwich Wrap (from Garbage!)

This video shows you how to make your own “green” recycled and reuseable lunch baggie!

Uploaded by OneSmallStepcom on Apr 13, 2011

It is easy to “Boycott The Baggie” when you make your own reusable sandwich wrap. All you need is: – a sturdy piece of plastic or mylar 11″ by 13″ or greater (like those from a chip bag, cereal bag, or gallon size storage bag) – velcro (tape will do until you can find velcro) – scissors



Make it easy, make it actionable:

Start with one small step – and go from there. Here are some ideas to start with:

• Eliminate the plastic sandwich bag and use a WRAP-N-MAT or Happy-Sacks Sandwich Sack

• Use a reusable bottle or thermos instead of juice boxes

• Double recipes when you cook, then freeze the extra in small containers for lunches

• Prepare fresh vegetables and fruits for the next day’s lunch as you cook your evening meal

• Use leftovers from dinner as is or as a starting point for a lunch entreé

Leftover meatloaf can be packed as is or turned into a meatloaf sandwich! Start small, and with each change you will see how easy it can be. Check out the Resources page for more helpful tips.

Can it really save me money?

Yes! On average, waste-free lunches cost 1/3 less. Your savings may be even higher, depending on your current buying habits.

Why? Purchasing food or beverages in bulk is always cheaper; individually-wrapped portions cost substantially more.

If you add up all the paper and plastic bags you send out over the course of a year, it’s much cheaper to get a cloth bag or long-lasting lunchbox and a WRAP-N-MAT or storage containers you’ll use again and again. Reducing waste is better for the environment, too.

My kids won’t eat peanut-butter sandwiches every day! What else can they eat?

Going waste-free can actually increase your food options! During your evening meal preparations, you can clean and prepare raw veggies and fruits for the next day’s lunch. If you cook a little more than you’ll need for your evening meal, the leftovers can be turned into the next day’s lunch.

• With a Thermos Leak-Proof Food Jar you can send your child off with a full, nutritious portion of hot soup or pasta

• With a Laptop Lunch Bento Set, you can offer a variety of veggies, proteins and carbs

• Our Laptop Lunch User’s Guide provides more fresh ideas, tips for picky eaters, and kid-friendly recipes

How can I get my kids to eat healthier food?

There’s a misconception out there that kids don’t like healthier food. It’s just not true. You can actually help your kids develop healthy food habits, rather than getting them used to high-salt, high-fat and high-sugar packaged foods.

• Involve your kids in the process: take a few minutes each evening with your child to pack up a lunchbox full of fun, colorful foods. You’ll find more food gets eaten and less brought home (or thrown away).

• Work together for an hour or so on the weekend to prep foods for the week in freezer packs. Make a game of it while you educate your kids about what’s good for their growing bodies. With effort invested in the process, children are less likely to waste food.

Check the websites on our Resources link for recipes and helpful hints on packing fun, tasty, and nutritious lunches for your kids.

Is this just for kids?

Not at all! Working parents can go waste-free for their own on-the-job lunches… families can bring snacks or meals on the road…Parents can pack food for baby. Waste-free lunches are fun! Get your whole family involved – packing lunches at home saves money and resources and can improve everyone’s diet. See our Resources links for recipes and meal preparation suggestions!

Is it true that you give 10% of anything I purchase back to my favorite non-profit?

Yes, we believe in investing in our community, and appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a waste-free lunch at your next event. If you make a purchase but don’t have a favorite non-profit, we donate 10% of our gross returns to Please suggest your favorite non-profit and we will consider adding it.



Sustainability at the family level: sharing the message with my kids

The EPA was directed to set standards for radi...

The EPA was directed to set standards for radioactive materials under Reorganization Plan No. 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, now that sustainability is a lifestyle change, how do I get my kids to understand what it’s all about?

Well, there are a number of fantastic resources to help “spread the word” at a child’s level:

For example, the EPA themselves offer a number of “games” to play vis a vie using sustainability as the backdrop for action, which I am super excited about as an alternative of letting the munchkins roam free on “barbie” or “disney” . (mind you, these sites off some info as well)

Teacher Resources and Lesson Plans

As an extension of the EPA’s Environmental Literacy program, they offer an array of environmental and science based lesson plans, activities and ideas.

EPA Resources

External Resources

EPA also has tons of fun games to play and learn about the environment! Here is a snapshot of a few:


Air Quality Index Grades: 3-6 What should you do when the Air Quality Index is orange? Let the chameleons K.C., Koko, and Kool, show you how EPA measures pollution in the air.

Beach Kids Games Grades: 2-4
Visit this site any time of year to play games about beaches.

Detective Training Activities Grades: 3-5 We need your detective skills to help us protect the earth! Solve these mysteries and you’ll learn how you can take care of the environment too!

EEK! Environmental Education for Kids Grades: 2-7 Learn about animals, the earth, and people who work in environmental jobs with this online magazine from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Energy Information for Kids Grades: 3-8 This site has games, riddles, word find/crossword puzzles, and science fair experiments on energy.

Energy Quest Grades: 3-6
Learn more about energy and avoid being an energy vampire!

The Environauts Mission to Earth Grades: 2-5 Help! The planet Ergon is filling up with trash and they need some help…! Can you teach the people of Ergon to protect their environment? I bet you can!

Go with the Flow Grades: 6-9
Let NASA teach you all about the flow of water.

Lose your Excuse Grades: 3-7 Fun games and activities that teach about energy conservation.

NASA’s new Climate Kids website Grades: 3-7 Geared toward students, the multimedia-rich Climate Kids site uses games, humorous illustrations and animations to help break down the important issue of climate change.

National Institute of Environmental Health Science Grades: 1-4 Games, puzzles, art, and more — all about science, the environment, and environmental careers.

Nonpoint Source Pollution Awareness Word Search Puzzle Grades: 6-9 Can You Find The Words?

Recycle CityGrades: 2-6 Explore Recycle City to see how the people of the town reduce waste, use less energy, and even save money by doing simple things at home, at work, and in their neighborhoods.

Roofus’s Solar and Energy Efficient Home Grades: 3-6 Learn how to be energy efficient at home.
Sewage in Your Face  Grades: 2-6 Get to the bottom of sewage in an interactive and fun way.

Sort Mania Grades: 2-6 This interactive game teaches you how to recycle.

Thirstin’s Word Scramble Game Grades: 2-4 In this animated game, you’ll unscramble words to show how much you know about water.

UV Radiation Crossword Puzzle Grades: 4-7 If you’re good with words, and think you know all about ultraviolet radiation (or want to learn), then you’re sure to enjoy this crossword puzzle.

Waste no Words Grades: 4-7 How much do you know about garbage and recycling? Find out in this totally awesome crossword puzzle!

Water Stewardship Grades: 3-7
Check out some of these games, virtual models and fun water activities made just for YOU!

What’s Wrong with this Picture? Grades: 5-8
Can you find all the ways that we pollute the water around us? Click on the picture to learn about some of the most common things to avoid.

Cool Stuff

The Groundwater Story Grades: 1-3 Animated music video about the the water “down below”, its importance to living things and how to help protect this hidden resource.
Interactive Water Cycle Grades: 1-4 In this animated activity, you control the water cycle as you learn.

Loop Scoops Grades: 1-5 Loop Scoops are short, funny videos to get you thinking about the stuff in your life and what this stuff can do to the environment.

Planet Protectors On-Line Coloring Book Grades: 1-2 Do you like to color? Do you like to color on-line? Visit this page and you’ll find a really awesome picture that you can color over and over again!

WaterSense Kids Page Grades: 3-7
Thirsty for knowledge about water?

Yucky Worm World Grades: 3-7 Learn about worms and what they do for our environment.

Another great site is National Geographic Little Kids, which also offers a number of resources and literature on the matter:

The 1st PBS Kids ident. Used from August 2, 19...

The 1st PBS Kids ident. Used from August 2, 1993 to August 31, 1999. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PBS kids, another mom favorite, has launched an online program called “meet the greens” to help inspire daily participation on this issue:

The GREENS is a site for kids from WGBH about sustainability and green living. You might know WGBH as the maker of shows like Frontline, NOVA, Masterpiece Theatre and Antiques Roadshow. Or maybe you’ve seen ZOOM or Arthur or Curious George on TV. We make those shows too.

The GREENS is a different kind of project because it has launched online. It’s not a TV show, at least not yet. The GREENS promotes a strong educational mission, something that is consistent with all of WGBH’s work.

With The GREENS, kids get thinking about the world and their place in it. The GREENS project is upbeat and optimistic. It encourage kids to make informed choices and meaningful changes. Through the animated episodic adventures, a blog, kids’ mail, and regular updates,the program explores green living, sustainability, ecology, environmental care, and social equity. It nudges kids to research, to challenge, to discover, and to take action whereever and whenever they can. Green Business named the program as one of the “Ten Best Environmental Sites on the Web.” The GREENS is a partner with PBS KIDS GO, National Geographic Educational Foundation, Project 3650, TVO Kids, and Zerofootprint.

The characters: Izz and Zoë, Zoë and Izz

Not only is a young woman named Zoë the voice of Izz in its videos, games and iPhone app, she’s also the main inspiration for The GREENS. Zoë’s own efforts to re-use, recycle, inspire, and greenify the world have found their way into the animated stories and blog entries in The GREENS over the years: Her bake sales for green causes, donating her bike, redirecting her birthday gifts to charity donations, conserving water at home, and supporting projects abroad like Beads for Life. The GREENS has often followed Zoë on her travels and everyday exploits, to her school, and even to her local town dump to see where the saved items go. Izz and Zoë even share a vague angst about squirrels. But it’s Zoë’s enthusiasm for the planet that has brought a real touch of reality and passion to Izz and this animated project.

For Teachers

The site has created Green Games and a rich array of supporting content. The games are entertaining ways to engage kids in learning about conservation, re-use, and saving energy. The service encourages students to explore our Web site, enter their own data in the Carbon Calculator, and write back to share their own stories about being green. One can also download the GREENS Activity Guide, which offers projects that can be done in class or after school.

For more information:

PLASTIC STATE OF MIND (Empire State of Mind Parody)  Another highly entertaining take on the raising awareness in the side of “critical rhetoric” is this viral piece which speaks to the “dangerous” use of  plastic bags in our society.  The piece is highly satirical, it’ll have you rolling, but raises a good point. You can Share this comedy musical w/ the family from Green Sangha:

Uploaded by BenZolno on Nov 16, 2010,

Made by passionate volunteers on a super tiny budget, on the behalf of Green Sangha!​plastics-campaign/​

Shoulda brought your own bag
Yeah but you forgot it though
You were busy dreamin of ice cream and
all that cookie dough

Your life is wrapped in plastic
Convenience is your motto
But plastic addiction’s worse
than they want you to know

BP’s oil spill
Almost like we did it –
We use one million grocery-bags
every single minute

Recycling them’s a joke yo
That baggie don’t go anywhere
It turns to little pieces
and then it spreads over everywhere

Into your food supply
Into your blood supply
Not to mention birds and fish and
Cuties you don’t wanna die

Just look at baby Sammy
Dioxins in its milky way,
cuz even her breast milk it’s got

OK now you get it
How you gonna stop it though
Banning Single Use Plastic Bags
is the way to go!

Join other states and cities
Kick the nasty habit
Tell your representatives
Ban single-use bags made from

Fossil product all your crap’s made of
There’s one thing we can do
Ban bags made of plastic
Skip the bag, the cup and spork dude
Convenience will kill you
Ban single use plastic toxic bags

Sustainably we go forth and save our cities
Bringing your own bag and forks and bottles should be easy
But corporations selling toxins bought the government
Stand together for yourself, your kids, the planet sayin’

Yeah, yeah,
Ban single-use bags made of

Fossil product all your crap’s made of
There’s one thing we can do
Ban bags made of plastic

Bring your own don’t you forget dude
And let your reps know too
Ban single use plastic toxic bags!

Q: How many plastic bags were used in this video, eh? Mm? Eh?
A: We asked volunteers to bring in only used bags they found lying around outside, and other plastic bags were part of the bag monster costumes. After the shoot, the bags went back to the homes or put back onto the costume.

Sometimes we have to do environmental harm to have a larger benefit, e.g take an airplane to Washington DC to help pass effective pollution emissions policy, but in the case of this plastic bag video, we didn’t have to do so.

Ben Zolno – Writer/Lyricist/Director/Bag Boy/Editor
Glenn Sauber – Shopper
AshEl Eldridge – Rapper
Jenni Perez – Singer
Bex Kanengiser – Cashier
Many awesome Green Sangha volunteers – Shoppers

Amy English – Production Coordinator, AD
David Nakabayashi – DP
Harrison Pierce – Consultant, Animatic, AC
Bo Cox – Camera Op
Seneca – Rap Recording Engineer
Colin Menzies – Working Music Track
Amurai – Final Music Track and Mastering

Sponsored by
Good Earth Organic –
To-Go Ware –
Chico Bag –
People Towels –
Sponsorship Coordinator – Carrie Staller sustainablesales at g mail dot com
NEWS FLASH: Congrats to ITALY going Single-Use-Bag Free On New Year’s Day

Taking sustainability to the streets: greening up my kid’s school

OK- why aren’t there recycling bins in the cafeteria?

I noticed the bins were visibly lacking when I attended my child’s lunch this last week- and began to look into why.

According to the PTA and the school’s administrative assistant, beyond recycling paper, the local government does not pick up their bulk recycling, such as cans or bottles. A volunteer would have to come and remove the recycling materials themselves- and unfortunately, I don’t personally own a truck to take on that responsibility.

So what can we do?

Well, I started to look possibly “greening up” the school:

1.) According to the EPA, October is Recycling Awareness month for kids! Who knew? Perhaps the EPA needs to do a better job with their marketing. I guess just another sign of cost cutting – so how can we get the word out? Well, for one, did you know that the EPA has a new student website? And on the site, there are actually “games” you can utilize to help educate kids on the subject.

The EPA has launched a new student’s website with games, homework resources, awards, events and contests. With videos, service projects and a student blog to boot, students will enjoy exploring this website. Parents and teachers can also find resources and lesson plans. Teachers will find links to a wide array of environmental webinars, publications, science-based lesson plans, activities and ideas.

Check it out at: “It’s Your Environment.”

Their suggestion on the subject was:

How can I reduce waste at school?

Students, parents, and teachers can all make a difference in reducing waste at school. By practicing the “3 Rs” of waste reduction—reduce, reuse, and recycle—we can all do our part.

The EPA was directed to set standards for radi...

The EPA was directed to set standards for radioactive materials under Reorganization Plan No. 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • EPA’s Tools for Schools Kit
    • If you bring your lunch to school, package it in reusable containers instead of disposable ones, and carry them in a reusable plastic or cloth bag, or lunch box. Bring drinks in a thermos or water bottle instead of disposable bottles or cartons.
    • If you buy lunch, take and use only what you need: one napkin, one ketchup packet, one salt packet, one pepper packet, one set of flatware. Remember to recycle your cans and bottles, and separate your waste if your school has separation bins!

Ok, I was somewhat disappointed, by their lack of follow through on how to get this idea to trickle down to the local government level, and perhaps help schools incorporate the initiative.


But I did find that there was information I could use to inspire the school, based on their inherent competitive nature, from an award standpoint:

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes K-12 Deadline: April 30, 2013
This award recognizes young people who have shown extraordinary leadership in making our world better in a number of diverse ways including protecting the environment.

The NEED Project’s Annual Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement Deadline: April 15, 2013

All NEED schools have outstanding classroom-based programs in which students learn about energy. Some schools have student leaders who extend these activities into their communities. To recognize outstanding achievement and reward student leadership, The NEED Project conducts the National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement.

Sieman’s We Can Change the World Challenge Deadline: Mid March, 2013
The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge encourages students, working with a teacher/mentor, to identify environmental issues of concern and create sustainable, reproducible improvements in their local communities.

How Do I Green My School?

I also looked into another program, which might hold the key to help make it stick, by possibly incentivizing the idea of becoming a “Green Star” (think more funding or grants):

There is a “Green Star” program, which helps schools gain “certification” via:

Green Schools Parent Toolkit and the “What’s Your Green Dream School?” Contest made possible by a grant from Full Circle Fund.

Start a Green School Program at Your School

There’s always room for improvement!

Enter: the Green Star Schools Program:

The purpose of the Green Star Schools Program is to honor, support, and recognize the important work that teachers, schools, and districts are doing to advance environmental sustainability; to create healthy and vibrant work and learning communities that enhance academic performance; and to foster intellectual growth, creativity, and innovation through an experiential program where students learn environmental stewardship and take action to reduce the school’s environmental footprint.

Those seeking recognition address three primary components: Institutional Commitment, Education through Action, and Facilities/Operations & Maintenance. Following this program may lead your school to become eligible for recognition under the federal Green Ribbon Schools award program.

Choose among these seven Environmental Pathways to focus your work and activities. Each of these pages provides downloadable Checklists, Guides, Audit Tools, and links to Lessons Plans to take action:

To become recognized as a Green Star School, you will use the Checklists and Guides to follow these Seven Steps:

  1. Form a Green Team
  2. Adopt Green Policies
  3. Conduct a School Environmental Audit
  4. Create an Action Plan to Green Facilities and Operations
  5. Evaluate Progress on Reducing the School Environmental Footprint
  6. Integrate Greening into the Curriculum
  7. Reach out and Celebrate to Share Success


There are 3 levels of recognition in the Green Star Schools Program. To be recognized, your school must complete the mandatory requirements and additional “Reach for the Stars” requirements in a varying number of Environmental Pathways of your choice:

  • 1 Star: Complete Requirements in 2-3 Environmental Pathways of your choice
  • 2 Stars: Complete Requirements in 4-5 Environmental Pathways of your choice
  • 3 Stars: Complete Requirements in 6-7 Environmental Pathways of your choice

Use the Checklists, Audit Tools, and Resource Guides to complete your selected Environmental Pathways.

For 1 and 2 Stars, results are self-reported and we will send you a certificate. For 3 Stars, we will verify your activities. Please email info at green schools dot net with your contact information so we can follow-up with your recognition.

Green Star Schools was initiated through collaboration among the non-profit Green Schools Initiative, county government agencies Alameda’s, San Mateo’s, Alameda County Office of Education, and San Jose’s Go Green Schools. Each partner is now implementing Green Star Schools through their own programs.

Please visit the Green Star Schools website to use online calculator tools to estimate the carbon emissions reductions of your actions, to track your results, and compare your efforts with other schools: (forthcoming Fall 2012)

You can also choose one from our “Environmental Footprint Calculators” page.

Read about the Green Star Schools Program at Berkeley’s Rosa Parks Elementary School here.

Learn about ways to empower your kids and your school to make a difference:

Green Schools Parent Toolkit

The Parent Toolkit gives you quick and easy steps for greening your child’s school, along with inspiring and practical information that will help you and your school’s Green Team to safeguard children’s health, reduce your school’s environmental footprint, and save money. ( I am hoping to use this when I meet with the PTA members)

How to get your child’s school going green! Take a look at the Parent Toolkit to green your school: (which I hope to use in discussions with the school board)

For each of the steps, we provide links to more information and tools; everything from our “How Green is Your School?” Quiz to waste-free lunch guidelines, and from greening your PTA events
to student action projects and beyond:

1. Watch our 3-minute video – Share the video with friends or download it from the Vimeo site to show at your next PTA meeting, or to your child’s principal or teacher, to get them inspired and persuade others to join in greening your school.

  1. Form a Green Team – Establish a Green Team with other parents, teachers, students, and staff who will work together on green school activities and ways to engage the whole school community in saving resources. Use our tips for starting a Green Team.
  2. Make an inventory – Take our “How Green is Your School?” Quiz and find out what your school is already doing and what else needs to be done. Bring the Quiz to your next PTA meeting and involve other parents and school staff in answering the questions. Volunteer to help your child’s teacher engage students in hands-on audits where they can use their math and analysis skills to analyze the school’s garbage, energy, carbon, or water footprints. These kinds of real-world, hands-on lessons are shown to improve academic achievement.
  3. Take action with students – Work with your child’s class, your Green Team, or a student club or After School program to choose one area from the inventory or audit that you want to improve. Follow actions done by these schools – or dream up your own! Share our Tips for Parents one-pager with your PTA.
  4. Change your own habits – Parent behaviors play a big role in determining a school’s footprint and set examples for children. On your own, you can make a meaningful difference through efforts like these:

    1. Green your PTA events and fundraising;
    2. Pack a waste-free lunch;
    3. Walk, bike, carpool or transit to school;
    4. Buy environmentally-friendly and recycled school supplies; and
    5. Serve healthy food and get outside with your kids.
  5. Celebrate your success – Organize an Earth Day celebration in your child’s class or school-wide to celebrate your efforts.

Thank you for all that you do! Please contact us if we can help support your efforts.

7 Steps to a Green School

These seven steps help you keep the journey to a Green School clear and simple.

Adapted from Eco-Schools International

1. Establish a Green Team or Eco-Committee

The Green Team is the heart of the Green Schools process, both organizing and directing activities at the school. Consisting of the stakeholders of the school environment – students, teachers, custodians, facilities managers, parents and school board members – the Green Team is democratic and can often be run by the students themselves. Whatever the type of school or age group, student involvement in the committee is essential. This group can be charged with coordinating many of the greening activities, making recommendations to relevant school decision-makers, and facilitating communication among — and actions by — the whole school community. Use our tips for starting your Green Team.

2. Adopt an Environmental Vision Statement or Planet Pledge

Each school produces its own vision statement, setting out what the students and/or school community are striving to achieve. The Environmental Vision Statement or Planet Pledge is displayed in various places within the school and is recognized by the students and other school community members as a statement of beliefs and intents. This statement is often in the words of students, and can be an inspiring classroom, art, or school-wide assembly project. Such statements can also be accompanied by a resolution from the school board, Parent Teacher Association, the Green Team, or other school bodies (see the sample school board resolution and sample policies on our Take Action page). Use our Four Pillars Graphic to help you understand and define the key components of a Green School.

3. Conduct a School Environmental Survey or Audit

To identify priorities for action, begin with conducting a review of your school’s environmental impact. Students are involved in this work at every step, from assessing the level of waste from school lunch, to checking the building for inefficiencies such as leaky taps, or electrical equipment left on overnight. The school and the Green Team can work with local organizations, businesses, or other resource people or experts during the review. Take the “How Green is Your School Quiz” and see how you rate. Find other examples of environmental surveys and audit tools on our Resources page, under Curricula. We’ve also got lots of ideas and resources on our Curriculum Ideas for Hands-On Audits page. These audits can be fun and really help educate the school community about the health and environmental impacts of the school.

4. Create a Green School Action Plan

Use the results of your environmental survey or audit to identify priorities of the key areas where you want to make change and create an action plan. It is important to set realistic and achievable targets to improve environmental performance at the school so kids and adults can take pride in tangible accomplishments in the short term. And it is important to set long-term, inspiring and challenging targets to move beyond the status quo and foster greater environmental improvements. The action plan could involve and promote, for example, a school recycling program; eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning materials; carpooling; energy conservation like turning off lights, computer monitors and printers; or a school garden. See the “sample school board resolution” and “Steps Forward” on our Take Action page for examples of policy resolutions, and specific action items under a range of environmental and health topics. Download a sample worksheet (Word doc) to help create a one-year workplan.

5. Monitor and Evaluate Progress

The Green Team, students, or other school community members can assist with monitoring and evaluating progress on the priorities in the action plan. This could involve conducting an annual environmental audit to monitor levels of waste, recycling, energy use, purchases of environmentally-preferable products, and financial savings and/or costs. Use these ecological footprint tools combined with our resources on school audits. The information from the monitoring is needed to ensure that progress towards the goals and targets is made and that the action plan is modified, if necessary. It also ensures that environmental education is an on-going process in the school, since students can be responsible for the annual audits. The basic data collected over time can show the waste, pollution, and energy avoided – big motivators for people to continue the efforts.

6. Integrate Greening into the Curriculum

Greening activities can be integrated into existing curricula in science, art, humanities, math, language arts, or electives. Using the school as a hands-on laboratory offers opportunities for real-world problem-solving. Students can undertake study of themes such as energy, water, forests, toxic pollution, and waste. The whole school should be involved in practical initiatives – for example, saving water, recycling materials and saving energy. Outdoor education and time spent in nature locally – whether the schoolyard, a park, or a field trip – is a critical component of a hands-on, place-based, experiential education. Where environmental education is not part of the regular curriculum, recommendations can be made by the Green Team as to how these themes can be incorporated. See our Teach Stewardship and Resources pages for a Sustainable Curricula Directory, examples of environmental curricula, on-line quizzes, and other teaching and learning resources, including reviews of books and other media with environmental themes. No need to reinvent the wheel – there are loads of existing curricula you can use!

7. Inform, Involve, and Celebrate!

Honor, celebrating, and communicating about achievements are critical components of a Green School! Greening programs can often unify the whole school and strengthen community relations. Your school might consider partnering with external organizations from the community to benefit from their experience and expertise. In some schools, environmental consultants have offered to take part in the environmental review process. Many local government agencies and utilities offer free advice on energy, recycling, and hazardous waste management. Schools should also consider the wider community when preparing action plans – for example, schools could offer to be the local recycling point or to be a drop-off for Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Some schools get involved with clean-up or habitat restoration at nearby parks or share their experiences in other ways. A communication and publicity program keeps the school and the community informed of progress through classroom displays, school assemblies, newsletters, or other press coverage. Communicating is key to spreading success and inspiring more actions. Annual Earth Day celebrations – organized around April 20 – can offer an opportunity to showcase actions taken by the school and bring together the school and wider community.

Follow the 7 Steps to a Green School and you will be on your way to reducing your school’s environmental footprint and empowering students to make a difference.

Build a Team Positive change often begins with a great team, and that’s where we suggest you start. Your Green Team can be a uniting and visionary force, and can have a ripple effect throughout the community. You and your students can create an action plan, inspire others, and celebrate a healthier, more sustainable school in just a few months.

Make a Plan Activities should be grounded in the passions and interests of teachers and students so tasks don’t feel forced on people. The action plan could promote a zero waste reduce-and-recycle program; nontoxic cleaning materials; global warming reductions through energy conservation; or a school garden. It’s all about reducing your school’s environmental footprint and engaging students to take action at school, at home, and in their communities.

A Green Back-to-School

What can you do? Start with our Parent Toolkit. Buy recycled- and environmentally-friendly school supplies. Pack a waste-free lunch. Check out the health and safety of your school facilities. Ask about your school’s Wellness Policy and more…

Kids spend a big chunk of their days inside a school, so it’s critical that the school environment:

  • has good indoor air quality
  • does not expose kids to toxic chemicals
  • serves healthy food
  • Allows for recess and physical education, and generally promotes health and well-being.

Be part of the solution – take action this school year! Follow the ideas here and the steps in our Parent Toolkit to make sure your school is healthy, safe, and sustainable.

1. Check the Health and Sustainability of your School

One in five people in the U.S. – 55 million children, teachers, administrators, janitors, and nurses – spend their days in K-12 schools. A growing body of research shows that a poor environment at school is detrimental to children’s health and learning. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency estimates that the environmental conditions in as many as half of all schools is unhealthy.

Check the health, safety, and sustainability of your school using the following helpful checklists and tools:

2. Re-use, Recycle, & Buy Environmentally-Friendly Back-to-School Supplies

Your back-to-school purchases make a huge difference. Here’s why: 14 billion pencils are produced every year, many made with wood from ancient forests. Americans use about 31.5 million tons of printing and writing paper each year, requiring 535 million trees (most from virgin tree fiber) and 12 billion gallons of oil to make. The average American consumes about 660 pounds of paper per year, compared to 550 pounds in Japan and only about 8.8 pounds in India. Some estimates suggest that 400 million used whiteboard markers — that’s 25,000 tons — are thrown out in U.S. schools every year, ending up in landfills. A switch to non-toxic refillable aluminum whiteboard markers would save money and waste.

Re-use and Recycle:

  • Can you reuse binders, pencils, and markers from last year? You might not need to buy much new.
  • Buy refillable whiteboard markers and re-use them for years.
  • Shop for used binder notebooks at your local re-use agency. In the Bay Area check out East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse – 3-ring notebooks are about 25 cents.
  • Buy used clothing at numerous fashionable and funky stores and/or donate your own used clothing. In the Bay Area, check out: Hannah’s, Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads Trading Co., Goodwill, Salvation Army, Out of the Closet, and more. You can find info about most of these stores under East Bay Used Children’s Clothing. Or look on-line or in the Yellow Pages under “used children’s clothing.”

Buy Environmentally-Friendly Supplies:

  • Visit the Green Schools Buying Guide. It’s for everyone — whether you’re overhauling school policy or just need to purchase a few reams of paper.
  • Center for Health, Environment and Justice – Check out their 2011 Guide to PVC-Free Back-to-School Suppliesand their Back-to-School Checklist.
  • New American Dream – has an excellent Back-to-School Guide.
  • New Leaf Paper – You can find gorgeous New Leaf notebooks, spiral, binders, and paper at Office Depot, Office Max, Kroger,, Target and other retailers. New Leaf also offers a 100% Recycled Back to School Value Bundle (online) for $40 that includes notebooks, binders, recycled content paper, dividers and pens. You can save 10% offall other products by entering the promo code “RECYCLED” at checkout.
  • The Green Office – (online) Sells supplies with recycled content, fewer hazardous chemicals, PVC-free, and reusability (like refillable pens). New “PVC-free Catalog”: they removed nearly 2,000 products containing PVC or vinyl from their old catalog! Enter the coupon code TGOWELCOME at checkout, and receive 10% off your first purchase.
  • Office Depot, Office Max, Staples – (in-store or online) Look for recycled content paper and notebook products, green printing supplies; pencils made from certified sustainable-harvest wood; and EnviroTech products, which have a higher recycled content.
  • Green Earth Office Supplies – (online only) Sells notebooks, recycled paper, recycled binders (some are made of old circuit boards!), and many other great products such as reusable, biodegradable, non-PVC plastic containers for lunch boxes under the Food Service/Kitchen Supplies tab (containers must be hand-washed).

3. Pack a Waste-Free and Toxics-Free Lunch

Make a waste-free lunch and make a difference! It’s estimated that the average school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That’s about 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school! There are 9,000 schools in California alone. And did you know that many vinyl lunchboxes contain dangerous levels of poisonous lead? Find out how you can pack a healthy, waste-free lunch:

  • Waste Free Lunches – information about how to pack a waste-free lunch and where to get a “laptop lunch box” with reusable containers that neatly fit into a lunch box.
  • – provides alternatives to help reduce disposable plastic and paper bag waste. Watch their Waste-Free Lunch video on YouTube.
  • Klean Kanteen – the maker of the original, reusable and non-toxic stainless steel water bottles offers a 10% discount for school and team fundraising. Have your school logo put on if you like. Complete the form here.
  • Kids Konserve – offers waste free lunch containers.
  • Waste-Free Lunch Guidelines – Download this document with helpful waste-free lunch guidelines developed by 4th graders at Prospect Sierra School.
  • Lead in Lunchboxes – Learn about how to test your child’s lunchbox for lead, find alternatives to vinyl lunchboxes, and join the campaign to stop the manufacture of toxic lunchboxes.
  • Healthy Lunches – Get ideas for packing your own healthy lunches from Chef Ann at or transform the school lunch offered at your school with the Rethinking School Lunch guide from
  • Avoid PVC Plastic – Many Glad (TM) products are made with polypropylene and are PVC-free, including Glad bags, Gladware reusable containers, and Glad plastic wrap. Avoid #3 plastics.

4. Check that your School has a Wellness Policy

In the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, Congress required that all school districts with federally-funded school meals programs develop and implement wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activity by the start of the 2006-2007 school years. Ask your principal if your school district has adopted the required policy. Find out if the policy promotes nutrition and physical activity as described by National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity. Click here for model school wellness policies that promote children’s health and well-being.

I am hoping that with this and a little more research, (i.e. – what’s in it for the school? Can they get additional funding to run such a program?) my school might just be able to get it off the ground!