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There’s a running joke that nothing gets thrown away in our family.
Initially, these values emerged from necessity: my Depression-era great-grandparents and grandparents had no choice but to get by with very little and to make everything last as long as possible. Growing up, my single mother turned to selling Tupperware to support the family.
When the Tupperware bowls, boxes and cups entered our home, out went the need for disposable (and pricey) sandwich wrap, baggies or bottled drinks. Not only were we saving money, we were keeping heaps of unnecessary trash out of landfills.
It was this upbringing, steeped in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mindset – long before it was fashionable – that really propelled me into my career in conservation. And it is this set of family values that I am deeply committed to imparting to our own girls.
One thing we can do about that from home is employ a “Trash-Free Lunch” rule. Our kids carry cloth napkins to school, and their sandwiches, snacks, and drinks get packed in long-lasting, leak-proof containers. Our mainstays are Tupperware sandwich containers, which are not only reusable, but keep PB&J and tuna salad from getting smashed, and Thermos containers for warm meals in winter. We buy or make most things (carrots, chips, applesauce, pudding) in larger quantities and divide them into single serving containers ourselves. We’ve even found reusable, durable alternatives to zip-top bags!
Foods from home can be just as fun as many of those cartoon-clad pre-packaged items. Letting kids get into the action – by choosing colorful containers and selecting their own lunch fixings – can definitely up their excitement and buy-in. And they learn more than just to care for the earth this way – packing lunch and bringing home their containers can help kids develop nutritional awareness, not to mention the responsibility of keeping track of their belongings.
Given the way I was raised, this approach seems a second-nature way to reduce waste, but I was surprised to learn just how much money we save over single-serving containers. It also turns out that this strategy is usually healthier.
I’ll admit that the convenience of ready-to-go items has sometimes trumped our best intentions, with single-serve beverages (juice boxes and foil pouches) being our biggest downfall. And those items are even worse than many other pre-packaged products, because their containers are not usually recyclable.
As we prepared our household to transition back to the classroom, we decided to analyze the cost of this habit. Whereas a 64-ounce bottle of Trader Joe’s Apple Grape Juice costs $3.49 (5 cents per ounce) and comes in a recyclable plastic bottle, a package of eight 6-ounce boxes of the same juice costs $3.69 (8 cents per ounce). Ta-da! A lesson in economics as well. My great-grandfather, who often lectured on the per-unit cost vs. profit in a cup of coffee, would be proud.
It’s surprising that, with the economy as tough as it is, more people haven’t embraced the thrifty ways of past generations – it’s good for the wallet, the waistline, and the planet. In other words, it’s common sense—or cents, as the case may be!
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Care2. Sarene Marshall is managing director for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Team.
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