How to Pack A Cheap and Easy Waste-Free Lunch

August 9th, 2009

There are many  eco-friendly options available for school lunch, but let’s face it: most of them are still pretty pricey. Shelling out  $21 for a Sigg water bottle or $37.95 for a Laptop lunch box adds up to big bucks quickly.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

Here are five super cheap, easy ways you can send your kids back-to-school with an eco-friendly lunch bag.   If you’re fortunate enough to have what you need already, maybe you could take this post and send it to a school list serv or to others  who might find this information helpful.

There are really just five things you need for a waste-free lunch:

1.    Lunch box – or brown bag. While there are great eco-friendly lunch box options out there, most range from $14 on up. You can buy a pack  of 100 brown paper lunch bags for $1.99.    No, it’s not totally waste-free,  but most municipalities recycle paper – so you can toss the bag out with the newspapers to be recycled!     It’s a much more environmentally  friendly option than buying a conventional school lunch bag, which are often made of PVC plastic. Read here to learn why you want to avoid PVC, which is harmful to our health and to the environment.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

2.    Water bottles. This is a biggie. Visit nearly any school cafeteria and you’ll see a staggering amount of waste from disposable juice boxes and milk containers.  Yet most stainless or non-PVC water bottles are $10 and up – some as high as $25 or more.  Before I invested in two Sigg Mr. Sharky’s  (pictured below), I used a good ole Honest Tea bottle. Made of durable glass, it was fine for drinks on the go.  I still use one in a pinch!

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

3.    Cloth napkin. No need to buy new here. Pretty much everyone has a spare dish rag or dish towel lying around the house, or some “good” cloth napkins that are only taken out for “special occasions.” These are perfect for school lunch. So far, my son hasn’t asked why he carries a linen dishcloth with a 1977 calendar on it, but I’m sure that day is coming soon…!

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

4.    Food containers. My how things have changed just in the past year. Now you can buy stainless steel containers for school lunch. But again, cost is an issue. If you don’t want to spend  $40 for an all-in-one lunch kit or $16 for a stainless steel food container, you can go the el cheapo route like I did.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Unfortunately there are no more of these nifty $4.99 glass pyrex containers at the Bethesda Giant, because I bought out their entire stock!

And here’s  a shot of Big Boy with his lunch bag, which contains some plastic (gasp) Gerber food containers. I love these.  They’re made in the good old USA, they’re  cheap (under $5 for 4 small dishes) and they’re made of #5 plastic, which does not contain BPA. Still, to be on the safe side (because all plastics can leach) I keep these plastic bowls out of the dishwasher and the microwave   I had to search high and low for these – they seem to sell out as soon as they’re in stock, but you can sometimes find them at Target or Buy Buy Baby.


He’s also carrying a more traditional “Green Mom”  accoutrement – a Wrap n’ Mat sandwich wrap, which is made of washable cloth and durable, low density polyethylene (LDPE). These sell for   $7.99 on the Internet, but I bought mine locally at My Organic Market.   When I hit the Wrap n’ Mat website as I was writing this post, I learned that they’ve just introduced little snack pouches, which sell for $8.99 each.

5.    Cutlery. This past school year I packed lunches with our regular cutlery, and unfortunately I regret it because some of our silverware never made it home.  This year I’m trying Sporks !

And I leave you with a picture of my boys’ trusty Crocodile Creek lunch bags being cleaned out. Because this frugal green Mom isn’t planning to buy new ones this year!


This post is for the Green Moms Carnival: Green Schools Edition, which runs tomorrow (Monday, August 10th) right here at OrganicMania.

— Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

Organic Food Savings: Buying in Bulk and Watch those Price Labels!

June 30th, 2008


The notion of bulk purchases often conjures up images of huge warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. While the savings there are great, the huge quantities you’re normally required to purchase and the far-flung suburban and exurban locations are turn-offs for many people.

Too often in our rush to pick up the weekly groceries we forget that bulk options exist in conventional grocery stores and organic markets alike. Back in April, OrganicMania posted 10 Tips for Saving Money on Organic Food from one of DC’s top organic grocers, Scott Nash. Despite my near-weekly trips to My Organic Market, until that interview with Scott, I never realized that MOM’s offers 10% case discounts on foods including 3 pound wheels of cheese, nuts, grains, granolas, beans, and more. Those discounts can really help you to save money on organic food.

Similarly, sometimes we forget the old rule of thumb to buy in bulk when our favorite foods are on sale. And frankly, the signage in some stores doesn’t help get the message across very clearly either. Take this sign for a sale on Horizon organic cheese. (Horizon cheese is not my personal favorite, but when it comes to kiddie lunches and snacks – particularly on those long car trips when it’s A Dilemma to be Organic & On the Road – those little individually wrapped cheese slices are a godsend.)
A quick first look at this sign had me thinking that it was a decent sale, 2 for $5.00, a savings of $1.49 off the regular price. After all, that’s what the sign says, as you can see. But that sign doesn’t clearly illustrate the savings. Think about it. The $1.49 savings is on each package of cheese, now on sale 2 for $5. So when you buy 2, you’re actually saving $2.98, not $1.49. A better way to think about it? Horizon organic cheese: 40% off. You don’t normally think of Whole Foods as a bulk purchase store, but we certainly stocked up on this incredible savings at DC’s Tenleytown Whole Foods. But hurry – this sale ends tomorrow, July 1.

Other great deals? There are some terrific non-organic savings from Whole Foods private label Whole Pantry collection, on sale at $3 per package, a savings of .99 per package. These easy-to-prepare couscous and veggies and other entrée frozen vegetable meals are great as compliments to simple salads. While they’re not organic, they’re imported from France, so they’re non-GMO, which is one key reason many people buy organic foods. And they’re delicious. Try the goat cheese and eggplant dish. Too big a carbon footprint? Well, some of the 365 Brand frozen organic vegetables are imported from China! That’s even further from this East Coast store. But ya gotta love Whole Foods – organic, conventional, local, domestic, imported, and any combination of those – there’s something for everyone.

And yes, it’s still a great time to buy organic strawberries. The incredible sale we discussed last week is still on – and so these delicious organic strawberries are still cheaper than conventional strawberries. And now the organic raspberries are finally on sale too, at $2.99 per pint, a reduction of $1.00 per package.

And finally, given that it’s summer time, what a great excuse to try some organic iced tea, now on sale. Can’t wait to try the new Rishi Organic Artisan Iced Tea I picked up on sale. Remember, as Seth Goldman of Honest Tea told us in this OrganicMania interview, those nasty pesticides aren’t washed off conventional tea leaves until they hit your hot water!

Did you find any good deals this week? Leave a comment and share! And if you want to hear about these deals – and more – live, sign up here to follow me on Twitter. It’s micro-blogging about organics, green living, kids and more. It’s fun!

Happy Shopping!


Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Green and Organic Savings Friday: Coffee, Water Bottles and Phthalate-Free Bath Toys

May 9th, 2008

Welcome back to Green and Organic Savings Friday at OrganicMania! Sorry for getting this post up a little bit later than usual this morning, but with two sickos in the house (DH and Big Boy), things are not going exactly according to plan! I’m sure all of you can relate.

Last Friday, we focused on organic tea. This week, the coffee drinkers get equal time. OrganicMania has blogged here about the fabulous biodynamic espresso beans and coffee available via mail order from Café Altura. It’s a great buy at $11 a pound, including shipping. We splurge on this coffee because DH is a coffee snob. (And I admit I’ve become one too).


But for some folks, coffee is coffee is coffee. They want Fair Trade coffee, but $11 a pound is too expensive. Well, how about $5.88 per pound? I haven’t actually tried this Sam’s Club Fair Trade coffee, but I haven’t seen a better deal. If any of you OrganicManiacs™ out there have tried it, please leave a comment and tell us what you thought! I found this on a scouting expedition the other week to check out Walmart’s organic lines, which have been getting a lot of press. (Yes, if you ever see a Mom with two kids and a Treo snapping pictures in your local store, that’s me! Say hello!) I also reviewed Walmart’s display of Clorox Green Works products during that same trip, check that out here.


Of course, there’s been a huge amount of press lately about the BPA and phthalates leaching into plastic bottles, sending Moms out to the stores in droves looking for eco-friendly green alternatives. The problem is that doing the research to replace your existing water bottles and bath toys can seem like a nearly full time job! If I can save any of you some time with these tips, it would make me very happy!

If you’re anything like my family, you had about 30 or 40 little plastic bath toys floating around your bath tub. They were so cheap, they seemed to invade the house. Well, one advantage to replacing the Cheap Plastic Crap bath toys with phthalate-free bath toys, is that they’re so much more expensive, you won’t have a boatload of them invading your house! But don’t make the same mistake OrganicMania did initially, and buy them separately for $5 to $15 a pop (ouch!) Instead, you can find reasonably priced tubes or boxes of Safari phthalate-free bath toys for around $8 to $10 for 10 to 12 bath toys. Here‘s one spot you can order them – and they’re on sale. Or, if you happen to be at the Delaware beaches, check out Big Boy’s favorite bookstore, Browseabout, which has a great selection of Safari toys – that’s where Big Boy scored his new bath toys.

And finding that perfect BPA-free water bottle? Well, I haven’t found one yet that’s priced right. So in the spirit of reduce, reuse, recycle, here’s what I’m doing….reusing a glass Honest Tea bottle.


Did you find any great deals on green and organic products this week? Leave a comment and share!

COMMENT NOTES – NEW COMMENT FORM EXPLANATION: (Sorry for caps!) I’m experimenting with a new program from Mr. Linky. If you are a blogger and want to link to this post from your blog and show a link back from OrganicMania  (which Technorati will count), please leave a comment in the box marked comments and when it asks for URL, leave your URL post where you will link to this post.

If you just wish to leave a comment without linking, leave your comment in the regular WordPress comment box.

Sorry for any confusion – first time through with new technology!


Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Interview: Seth Goldman, Tea-EO of Honest Tea, Part 2

March 21st, 2008

Part 1 of the OrganicMania Interview with Seth Goldman is here.

OrganicMania: Honest Tea’s kids’ tea, Honest Kids, is sold in plastic pouches that aren’t recyclable. I know you have information on the wrapper about your relationship with Terracycle, but it’s a bit hard to follow…you have to go to the website to get more information, for example. Not many tired Mothers have the presence of mind to do that before disposing of the packaging.

Seth Goldman: Actually, that plastic pouch is the most environmentally efficient packaging we have. By weight, the pouch is 97% product, and only 3% packaging so there’s very little waste. We’re not using fuel just to ship packaging.


Since we launched that line last year, several thousand pouches have been collected and turned into bags through our relationship with Terracycle. We are reaching 1,000 collection sites around the country, in places like schools, youth centers, and other places where kids gather.

(Ed Note: You can learn more about this re-use program here.)

Still, it’s a challenge. We live in a consumer society. The definition of a consumer is to destroy, and the definition of sustainability is the exact opposite. How do you live a sustainable life in a consumer society? You’re setting yourself up for a contradiction.

I just participated in a class discussion at the Yale School of Management, and I talked with the students about environmental impacts of business. What we can try to do is to take our environmental practices and our consciousness about our packaging and try to move things in a different direction.

OrganicMania: Still, when we were kids, we just didn’t use this much plastic. I remember paper straws, for example. Couldn’t you use a paper straw with the drink pouch instead of plastic?

Seth Goldman: Well, you need some sharpness to punch in the drink pouch and insert the straw. You couldn’t do that with paper.

OrganicMania: I see there are a lot of issues to consider when looking at which materials to use…it’s especially interesting to hear about the trade-offs between plastic and glass. I think most people are unaware of these trade-offs and just tend to think that plastic is bad and glass is good because of recycling. But as you’ve shown, you can save fuel and cut carbon emissions through plastic use and then encourage re-use of plastic through programs like the one Honest Kids has underway with Terracycle.

Speaking of kids, recently I blogged about what I call “Organic Kid Marketing” – organics companies that are using cartoon characters on packaging to market their products directly to kids. It’s notable that you chose not to do that with Honest Kids. In fact, there are pictures of fresh fruit on the Honest Tea boxes and drink pouches, yet it’s obvious it’s a kid’s drink because of the iconic plastic pouch shape that speaks to kids. Did you have heated internal discussions about whether or not to engage more directly in “Organic Kid Marketing?” And do you know the ages of typical Honest Kids consumers?


Seth Goldman: It was a deliberate decision not to do something like putting “Elmo” on the package, because we didn’t want to limit the age of the people who would be interested in drinking Honest Kids. In fact, I know a lot of adults who drink it. People write in and tell us, “I drink it in my office,” so it’s obvious it’s not kids who are doing that! We really don’t know the exact age range of most of the Honest Kids drinkers…our information right now is mainly anecdotal. Kids do like to be seen with it. We know we’re not losing opportunities with it because there’s not a character used to market it. In fact, use of a character probably would have limited the market for Honest Kids. I know there are kids in middle school drinking Honest Kids. You wouldn’t catch a sixth grader with a Power Rangers juice box! So while we don’t know the exact age, I think age 2 to 12 is probably the right way to think about it.

And that’s another positive part of our deal with Coca Cola. We’ll get a lot more distribution of Honest Kids, including, hopefully, at places like McDonalds.

OrganicMania: Obviously, your professional life is all about organics. What about your personal life? You have kids, too. How do they deal with all the focus on organics?

Seth Goldman: We’re vegetarian, we eat mainly organic, we have a composter in the back, we drive a hybrid, I ride my bike a lot…but that said we’re living in a consumer society so we deal with the same contradictions everyone faces. My kids are sometimes teased about it, but in a fun way.

OrganicMania: You’ve used your blog, Seth and Barry’s Blog, to address customer concerns about Coke’s investment in Honest Tea. When you’re not doing your own blogging, which blogs do you enjoy reading?

Seth Goldman: I like reading Emily Bazelon on Slate, I like reading some of the blogs on and Stonyfield Farm’s blog.

OrganicMania: Thanks so much for your time, Seth! This has been a really interesting discussion – I think people will enjoy it.

— Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Interview: Honest Tea Tea-EO Seth Goldman (Part 1)

March 20th, 2008

Big news hit the organics world in early February, when Coca-Cola took a 40% stake in Honest Tea, the nation’s best selling and fastest growing organic tea company. Seth Goldman, Honest Tea’s co-founder and “Tea-EO” sat down with OrganicMania in March at Honest Tea’s light filled, eco-friendly headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland for this interview touching on sustainable packaging and the organics movement.


Note: With my background in corporate marketing, I’m accustomed to seeing CEOs flanked by their PR people. Given Coke’s considerable stake in the company, I half-expected a visitor from Atlanta to join us. But it was just Seth and yours truly for 45 minutes. Here’s what was discussed:

OrganicMania: What sparked your interest in organics and sustainability?

Seth Goldman: I’ve always had environmental awareness. I’ve always spent a lot of time outdoors. I worked at Calvert Group where they had environmental screens. I was leader of a campus group for students for responsible business, now called NetImpact, although I was more focused on economic opportunity than environmental issues.

After starting Honest Tea, it was only natural to get more focused on and more concerned about the environment and agricultural practices. One of the things I learned is that tea is one of the few products that is never rinsed. If you have a tomato or an apple, you can easily rinse it before eating it. But if chemicals are sprayed on tea leaves, the chemicals stay on the tea leaves until hot water is poured in the teacup. In countries like China and India, there is a lot less oversight. Unless there’s an organics inspector, it’s safe to assume atrazine is used, which is the herbicide believed to be responsible for dual sex frogs. There are concerns about safety and the affects on people. So it was in the process of learning about tea for Honest Tea, that I learned about organics. We looked at every responsible option available to us. And the beginning was the use of organic sweeteners.

OrganicMania: What about packaging? One of the main issues that bothers green consumers, like those who come to OrganicMania, is that even if you take the time, energy and money to seek out an organic or green product as an alternative to a traditional product, odds are the organic or “green” product will still be packaged in plastic or some other environmentally-unfriendly packaging. How long will it be until we have biodegradable packaging for organics and green products? What kinds of strides are being made in that area?

Seth Goldman: It’s an evolution. There are no simple answers, although technology is advancing, and that will help. One example of this is corn resin, which can be made into biodegradable plastic for some products. But that won’t work with Honest Tea, because we heat up to 180 to 190 degrees and biodegradable plastic couldn’t withstand that kind of heat. Some biodegradable plastic will work with commercial composting, but not with home composting, and commercial composting is not yet widely available. You can’t put biodegradable plastic in a recycling bin because the plastic is not a PET, and so that bottle contaminates the waste stream.

There are some interesting ideas being proposed, for example, to increase the use of recycled content. Coca-Cola is doing a lot of this, and through Coca-Cola, we’ll now be able to increase our recycled content. Can we get to over 20 percent recycled content in our bottles? I would love to see us go further in that direction. On our own, Honest Tea doesn’t command enough attention from suppliers to make them supply us with recycled content in our bottles, but when we are associated with the world’s largest beverage company, we have a better chance to get their attention.

There are other advances in packaging that are exciting. For example, looking at second uses for products. What about peeling off the skin on a product? So that even if the outer skin couldn’t be recycled, the inner skin could be recycled. These are just ideas, but again, this is part of the reason I’m excited about our deal with Coca-Cola. The Coca- Cola R&D centers are doing a lot of interesting research in these areas.

Visit tomorrow for Part 2 of this interview with Honest Tea co-founder and “Tea-EO,” Seth Goldman, where he’ll continue the discussion about plastic packaging, sustainability, and Honest Tea’s deal with Coke.

What do you think about Seth’s viewpoints? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

A Community Goes Green – Watch Bethesda Green

March 14th, 2008

Green initiatives are popping up all around the world, as people try to do something meaningful to slow global warming, reverse pollution, and make the environment cleaner and safer for generations to come. You’ve seen it with the Eco-Moms, Portland’s Green Groups, and now, the kick-off of Bethesda Green, an ambitious project to make Bethesda, Maryland a model green community.

In what may be the first effort of this type, business, government, community, and non-profit leaders are coming together to develop programs that will reduce Bethesda’s carbon footprint, increase its recycling rate, and reduce landfill waste and pollution. And this is just the first phase of the project! In the second phase, Bethesda Green aims to encourage smart growth and green development and to green its business community.

Championed by a local business leader and a county councilman, Bethesda Green is being defined by its community members. Expectations were that 75 people would show up for the kick-off, but nearly 400 folks arrived – from retirees to students to Moms to business owners to community and civic leaders.

This is such a new concept that no one is sure exactly how things will unfold, but the goal is to make Bethesda a model green community.

Thinking about a similar green initiative in your community? Here are six tips to help you get started:

1. Don’t mandate – encourage.
2. Find like-minded leaders in your community and form a small steering committee to help set things in motion.
3. Be open-minded. Everyone has a stake in this. This means business and government and non-profits and students and private citizens.
4. Get some help from professional organizers, at least for the initial phases. Bethesda contracted with the Livability Project* and the Sustainable Business Network of Washington.
5. Make it fun. Plan interesting events to educate and entertain.
6. Put as much on the web as you can. Identify best web practices to facilitate cooperation and communication.


Bethesda Green Website (Soon to be relaunched)

Bethesda Green Blog (Soon to be relaunched)

Local media coverage – Washington Business Journal, Bethesda Gazette, more Gazette coverage

Launch Kick-off Remarks by Seth Goldman of Honest Tea, the visionary behind Bethesda Green

Have you been involved in similar initiatives? What do you think about Bethesda Green? Leave a comment and share! Continue reading »