Monthly Archives: July 2010

I Love These Boxes My Daughter’s Homeschool Books Came In

My daughter’s school supplies from came today. It was a lot of fun checking out what we got from them. But one of the most interesting parts was looking at the insides of the top flaps.

That’s just one of the flaps. It’s a little hard to read, but all four flaps give ideas on how you can reuse the box around the house, as a toy and more. It’s really a great way for them to encourage the reuse of the box.

I have to say the supplies look really great too. It’s going to be a great school year.

Keeping Back to School Eco Friendly

It’s time to start thinking about the start of the school year. In my area it’s coming up fast, less than a month away.

Now is the time that stores start offering school supplies in earnest and parents respond. Much of it cannot be helped, as schools often provide lists of supplies your children will need for the classroom. Then there are clothes, backpacks and so forth that need to be ready for school.

It can be pretty bad from an environmental perspective. So many things to buy. So many choices that really aren’t doing the environment any favors.

Review What You Have

Take a good look at the start of each school year and see what you have that can be reused or continue to be used.

If you buy good quality, there’s a good chance that your kids’ backpacks will last more than one school year. Poorly made ones may struggle. Not to mention that some kids are just plain hard on their stuff. Just really think before buying a backpack if you already have one that will work.

I suggest avoiding backpacks with favorite characters if possible. These can be outgrown because your child doesn’t like a particular show anymore or becomes aware that the other kids don’t like that show. It can be embarrassing to own the wrong backpack at times like that.

If your child brings lunch to school, take a look at what you have. Make sure your bag is lead and BPA free and in good enough condition. Make sure you have good quality reusable containers. I love my daughter’s Klean Kanteen, and it will last for years.

Don’t forget their clothes. Many outfits will be outgrown over the summer, so see what you need to buy to start things off, but remember that the weather will be hot for a while yet in many areas. Take advantage of thrift store shopping and do consider the colder weather for your area if you see appropriate clothes available.

Find Out What You Will Need

You may not need to buy a lot of school supplies. Many schools provide lists of things they will need for the classrooms while others don’t expect you to provide anything. Buy environmentally friendly options when possible.

Amazon has a green office supplies section that may be an easy way to handle this shopping.

Plan on Walking, Biking or Busing to School

Depending on how far you live from your children’s school, plan on having them walk, bike or take the bus there. Don’t join the masses crowding in to drop the kids off by car if you can help it.

If you’re close enough, you can also encourage your fellow parents to have their kids walk to school. Some do a walking school bus where one parent leads a group of kids to pick up the various kids and walk them all to school together. It’s healthy for all concerned and takes care of a lot of the safety concerns many parents have.

Plan Healthy Lunches

The easiest way to provide your kids with a healthy lunch at school is to use leftovers from the previous night that don’t need to be reheated. This won’t work every day.

If you want to provide warm food, get a Thermos or other insulated food jar for your kids to use.

Don’t buy the prepackaged lunches or snack size bags of chips or crackers. You can put appropriate amounts into your reusable containers quite easily.

How Do You Find Eco Friendly Store Bought Cleaners?

Not everyone wants to make their own cleaners for their home, even when it’s as simple as baking soda and vinegar for many jobs. Some prefer to buy cleaner that have been made for them. The hard part is getting past the claims and finding products that are more environmentally friendly and safer for your family.

What do you look for?

There area few clues, and labels proclaiming that the product is “all natural,” “green” and so forth really aren’t it. Too many of these claims are not regulated and are in fact meaningless.

Clearly Marked Ingredients

The ingredients in general should be clearly marked. There are a lot of ingredients to look out for, such as anything derived from petroleum. There are a lot of ways these can be listed, such as mineral oil, propylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, parabens, and many synthetic fragrances.

If you don’t know what’s in the cleaner, you don’t know what you’re using. A partial list isn’t enough.

Calling a product chemical free is misleading. While most of us would assume they mean dangerous chemicals, the simple truth is that nothing in this world is chemical free. Water is a chemical, for example. So is baking soda. Don’t let a label mislead you with this term.

Good Terms to See on the Label

There are several terms you do want to see on the labels of cleaning products. These include phosphate free, ammonia free, plant based, biodegradable, chlorine free, certified USDA organic, solvent free,  fragrance free, and dye or artificial color free.

Terms to Beware of

Some terms are there specifically to tell you that the product is dangerous to ingest or get on your skin. Even some natural products can have problems, such as essential oils that are better for you when diluted into a carrier oil. Natural does not equal safe, after all.

Poison and danger are the strongest terms. These are the products you most want to avoid, and doubly so want to keep away from your children.

Next come caution and warning. These have hazards, but not as bad as those labeled poison or danger. Still not thing you want to have around your home when you can avoid them.

Finally, if the package tells you to wear gloves or use in a well ventilated space, pay attention. These are hard on your skin or can make breathing difficult. They certainly aren’t healthy for you to have significant contact with.


You can’t avoid packaging, even if you make your own cleaning supplies. But you can do your best to buy cleaning products in packages that can be reused, refilled or recycled. Reusable and refillable are of course the best.

Many genuinely eco friendly companies try hard to have refillable containers. It’s a part of their work to be kinder to the planet. Non-eco friendly companies can do this as well, so it’s not a real indicator.

Refills should be in either larger containers or in a concentrated form so that they use less packaging than the original container. Ideally these containers should also be recyclable, although the lack of available recycling facilities is a reality many of us have to deal with.

Generally Good Brands

While I can’t promise that every product offered by these companies will be good, these companies tend to sell cleaning products that are more eco friendly than others you will see on store shelves.

Simple Green Naturals
Dr. Bronner’s
Seventh Generation

Is Scraping the Dishes Enough for Your Dishwasher?

These days I always hear that you don’t need to rinse your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. They say with modern dishwashers and dishwasher detergents, it’s not only unnecessary, it makes it harder for the detergent to work correctly. They say the detergent breaks down the bits of food.

Does it work for you? It sure doesn’t for me!

It doesn’t matter if I use an eco friendly dishwasher detergent such as the one from Seventh Generation, or one of the usual suspects. If the dishes have more than an insignificant amount of food on them, I get food dust all through the glasses on the top shelf. It’s disgusting.

I do still need to try Ecover, which is well rated on Amazon.

My way of handling this is to scrape first. I have a good scraper my mother gave me, and spoons do a fair job on some surfaces too. Sometimes the flat and flexible surface of the scraper does a better job, though. An alternative to buying a scraper is to use an expired credit card – they’re flexible and have a good enough edge for the job.

Then a sink of water for rinsing, rather than running the faucet, at least if several are being done at once. Running the water is wasteful if there’s more than a few dishes to rinse.

Honestly, I’d love it if dishes only needed to be scraped to get clean in the dishwasher. A big part of why they’re supposed to be more water efficient is that you shouldn’t always need to rinse dishes now. Too bad it doesn’t work that way for me.

Does it work that way for anyone?

Have You Talked to Your Family About Being Green Lately?

If you’ve been working at being green for a while in your home, you probably figure your family is used to the idea. But have you talked about it? How does everyone feel about it? Are there more changes people would be willing to make?

It’s easy to slip into a comfort zone with any activity. We all do it. Having a family talk about how things are working out is good for making sure that resentments aren’t building and to come up with new ideas.

What Are the Problems?

Raising a green family isn’t easy and it’s not always fun for all participants. What is acceptable at one point may be turning into a burden as your kids get older, for example. Talking about how things are working gives everyone a chance to express their feelings, even if you don’t make changes.

What Are the Solutions?

Discuss what your family is willing to do to go green. Who is responsible for various activities? Why are you doing all of this anyhow?

Each family will have their own areas that are easier and harder to deal with. For some, growing an organic garden will be a pleasure, even when it comes to dealing with the compost pile. For others, it will be a chore, and possibly better replaced by joining a co-op or finding other organic or local food sources.

Go through the list of easy and hard eco friendly activities. When something is challenging, talk about how you can meet that challenge or simplify it.

Give everyone a chance to talk. If one of the kids is on the quiet side, encourage him or her to speak up. Not only is it good practice, it will help to ensure that they feel their concerns have been heard. I can tell you from experience that just because a quiet child doesn’t speak up readily doesn’t mean he or she lacks an opinion or isn’t resentful that things don’t go their way. It’s just incredibly hard for some people to speak up for themselves.

You can write down your solutions to help everyone remember what you’ve agreed to. Some things you will be able to schedule so that everyone will know when particular jobs need to be done. Other things will just be a part of the routine.

Talk Regularly

You don’t need to talk about these things daily, but do talk regularly. How often depends on what works for your family. Just remember to talk about it.