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Above left, Ava Welch pours water into her water bottle in preparation for another school day. Above right, Ella Welch pours a single serving of pretzels into a sectioned plastic container. The container can be washed and reused, rather than using plastic bags that are tossed in the trash. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

August 28, 2014
If you could help save a tree, would you?

If you could use items to help reduce dependence on products manufactured from oil, would you?

If you could help the environment every day, would you?

Was your answer to each question "yes?"

Students, and parents, can support that "yes" by carrying lunch boxes or bags filled with reusable food and beverage containers, a cloth napkin and reusable utensils. Economically astute and environmentally conscious families are stepping up their game to help the planet by using plastic or glass food containers rather than plastic baggies and hard plastic or aluminum water bottles rather than one-time use plastic water bottles.

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A look into the City of Grosse Pointe Welch family's cupboard finds a shelf dedicated to BPA-free plastic containers and aluminum thermoses to be filled with food for Richard third-grader Ava and first-grader Eleanor, Ella for short.

"We use aluminum and BPA-free plastic," said mom, Kristin Welch. "We lived in Manhattan and became very aware of waste and trash. I've been doing BPA-free for years."

BPA or bisphenol A is a carbon-based synthetic industrial chemical compound used in plastics.

An array of lunch containers lines up on the counter. From the insulated lunch bags to plastic sectioned containers, the Welches have it covered depending on the lunch selection. A thermos will carry soup or milk. Days when salad is the main course, a container for the leafy greens and another to hold the salad dressing is chosen. Sandwiches are packed in a container with side sections to hold cut up fruits and vegetables. A two-sectioned clear container has a holder for a spoon and can be used for fruit, pasta or quinoa.

"The beauty of these things is they last forever," she said.

As lunches are packed, Ava pours water into her aluminum water bottle and tucks it into the side slot of her lunch box.

Welch said she likes this because it can be refilled in school and Ava can have fresh water throughout the day.

In addition to using reusable containers, Welch includes a paper napkin made from recycled materials which she buys in bulk to further reduce home trash.

Ella pours pretzels from a bulk container into a reusable single-serve container.

Even this large container can be repurposed, Kristin Welch said.

"We have very little garbage. We recycle and repurpose," she said.

"A parent can save money by buying a large bag of crackers and put it in reusable material," said Melissa Sargent of LocalMotionGreen @ Ecology Center. "You are using less material instead of 10 small ones (bags)."

She also suggests families use wax paper to wrap food in, bamboo or stainless steel utensils and lunch boxes of cloth.

Sargent cautions parents to watch out for lunch boxes embedded with BPA or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or Microban. The Microban is embedded into the fabric as an antibacterial, however, the chemical could leach.

At school

Maire Elementary School's building engineer George Flora gives accolades to the students for making recycling a success.

Maire has been designated an evergreen school, the highest level in the Michigan Green Schools program.

"The main thing is those kids make this work. They get into it," he said. "The children also encourage their friends to use the recycling bins in the cafeteria. "It's all done politely."

Flora used to empty three 55 gallon trash bins of garbage from the cafeteria daily. When recycling bins were installed about five years ago, he said, he saw an immediate reduction in trash. Only 1 1/2 trash bins are filled daily. Students are recycling plastic bags, spoons, straws and their wrappers, among other items. And there are monitors to help students drop the appropriate items into either the trash or recycling bins.

"Our recycling numbers continue to go up and we continue to add to the pieces we recycle each year," said Rebecca Fannon, Grosse Pointe Public School System public relations specialist. "We started with paper. We now have coordinated efforts for plastics, cardboard, batteries and we run an electronics recycling program each year also."

High school students also are considering their carbon footprint.

Grosse Pointe South High School junior Elise Bollenbacher uses reusable containers to pack her lunch.

On a gluten- and dairy-free diet, she said, the cafeteria doesn't offer many choices, making it a necessity to carry her lunch. There are days she uses an insulated lunch box to keep her meal chilled with an ice pack. However, Bollenbacher said, she does use a brown paper bag and depending on its condition after lunch, will take it home to reuse.

"There is a stigma to using a recyclable lunch box," she said. "You want to fit in and not stand out. If everybody used a lunch box, it wouldn't be so weird."

"Talk to your children about their responsibility to do their part of not putting things in the landfill," Sargent said. "If they don't recycle at school, encourage the child to bring (recyclable material) home."

In addition to placing recycling bins in the school cafeterias, Local Motion Green @ Ecology Center staff is working with the Grosse Pointe schools to have recycling bins at the schools' sports fields.

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