I like to buy juice boxes now and then for convenience, but on a regular basis, I try to avoid them. One juice box isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but one juice box per day multiplied by ten months of school (180 days, on average) is quite a pile of non-recyclable trash. Multiplied by the 24 kids in your child's class is over 4300 empty juice boxes in our landfills per class. Add in the wrappers from individually wrapped snacks, yogurt cups, plastic Lunchable containers, plastic baggies, and so on and you've got a massive pile to contend with. If we could reduce that number by even half, that's a huge improvement.
So, what's a busy mom to do?
In lieu of plastic baggies and individually packed snacks such as crackers, cookies, fruit, applesauce, yogurt, and so on, I'd suggest going and buying some reusable containers that are also marked as recyclable, should they break. I like these twisty-lidded ones from Zip-Loc (Target makes a generic version) - you can put liquids in them and they don't leak. Plus, they are easier for a small child to open than the standard pop-top lids. More importantly, they are easier for the small child to put the lid back on, should he or she not finish whatever is in it, so you are less likely to end up with a lunch box full of wet stickiness.
Instead of juice boxes or disposable juice or water bottles, invest in a couple of BPA-free reusable ones.
You can freeze them 1/3 full of water at night and then fill with juice or water so they will be cool for lunch. I've even frozen them with milk inside - by lunch, the milk has thawed, but is still nice and chilly.
And what about those granola bars, and other wrapped snacks? You know, it's not important to me to produce absolutely no garbage. I do buy much less of that type of thing than I used to, but if my child has a wrapped fruit leather bar in with his reusable containers occasionally, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.
That said, if you can buy the product out of the wrapper, then I'd suggest you do so, but sometimes, there is no wrapper-free alternative. One solution, however, is to remove the item from the item, recycle the wrapper at home, and just slip it in one of the reusable lunch containers, next to Junior's sandwich.
One added bonus to going green is that it saves money. Woohoo! After the initial purchases of reusable items, it's vastly cheaper to fill your drink bottles with filtered tap water, milk from a gallon jug, or juice from a 64oz container than it is to buy little individual drinks. Similarly, you get so many more snacks for your money - the giant bottle of applesauce, the 32oz container of yogurt, and the huge bag of pretzels contain many more servings than the individual sized versions. If you have more than one child, then multiply those savings and it really adds up.
Another plus is that it's a fantastic lesson to teach your children - the earth is ours to take care of and this is how we do our part. We talk about being kind to our planet, but this is a good way to show them how we accomplish that goal - something tangible. It's a simple lesson, but an important one, regardless of your politics.
If you have any product recommendations or other ideas, please feel free to comment below.
P.S. Here's some great school lunch ideas from Family Fun.