The best way to lessen our trash is to create less. You can do this by swapping out disposable lunch elements and replacing them with reusables.
TIP #1: Trade bottled water and juice boxes for reusable bottles.
Plastic bottles tend be lighter, but seem to break down faster, and some experts worry about the chemical ingredients in plastic itself. Your safest bet is to look for BPA-free products as well as plastics with the numbers 2, 4 and 5 on the bottom. These numbers don't leach.
My favorite plastic bottles are the Literless Juiceboxes and the Sip Bottles by Rubbermaid. These #5 bottles are safe on the top rack of your dishwasher, are fairly inexpensive, and if sealed properly do not leak. My biggest issue with them is that I don't know what the interior straws are made from. They seem like generic restaurant straws cut in half, and as my first batch broke down, I was sure my kids were eating straw parts. I've since wised up, and I discovered that you can replace your straws through Rubbermaid.
Metal cups last longer, but tend to be heavier. We have experimented with different kinds and found that many leak if they get knocked over (ruining entire lunches and soaking handbags), and the fancy color designs tend to eventually scratch off.
I have three favorite brands:
- Kleen Kanteen: These meet my simplicity rule. The bottles are made from stainless steel with safe plastic tops. If you buy the same mouth size, all the tops are interchangeable, and while you're not supposed to put them in the dishwasher, I do, and have never had a problem. These bottles, however, have been known to leak. The sports caps are a little tricky for little hands to push all the way down, and my second grader sometimes has trouble unscrewing the 'closed' top. The colored-styles will scratch showing their wear much faster than the plain ones. Still, this is my cup of choice when I'm out and about.
- Camelbak Stainless Steel: These cute stainless steel straw cups are great for road trips. They don't weigh too much, and the pop-straw tops are very easy to open and close. They do leak a bit, however, if they aren't sealed perfectly, and if the straws aren't perfectly pushed together. We've had some lunch damage with these. That said, in the car, on the go, they are perfect for little hands. As with the Rubbermaids, I worry a bit about the materials for the plastic straws, but straws are a concession I've had to make.
- Thermos Funtainer: Funtainers are my favorite for school lunches. There is a pop-straw top and a cover, making these virtually leak-proof. (So long as you close them.) Available in a wide-range of kid-friendly and adult-friendly designs and sizes, they are insulated keeping drinks cold. We have found that ice cubes in a Funtainer can replace an ice pack. This is probably a good thing because Funtainers are the heaviest of the three options! I have the same straw concerns as with the Camelbak and Rubbermaid, but what can you do? This is the ONLY bottle that has not ever made a leaky mess.
A lot of people ask about the lighterweight aluminum bottles. Personally, I'm not a fan because they break my simplicity rule. Most are lined with some protective coating to keep the aluminum from leaching. A few years ago SIGG was slammed for using BPA in their inner lining and not disclosing it to the public. Folks were shocked - but not me. The more complicated a product, the more likely it is to be less healthy.
Stay tuned for Tip #2: Reusable Snack Containers