How to green your child's school

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1. Pack an organic and waste-free lunch. There are numerous ways to get the plastic and even paper out of a paper-bag lunch. Cute “green” lunchboxes, tiffin sets, and BPA and phthalate free sandwhich and snack bags (like the Snack Taxi) are a start. Don’t forget to ditch the bottled water and Capri Sun-style juice drinks. The amount of garbage these generate is ghastly. Instead, get a reusable stainless steel water bottle and fill it with your drink of choice (filtered tap water being our recommendation).
2. Buy an organic lunch from an organic lunch delivery service (e.g. Gourmet Gorilla in Chicago).
3. Use organic lunches as a determinging factor when choosing a private school or daycare and let the administration know this is part of your decision-making process.
4. Advocate for better school lunches through programs like the Healthy Schools Campaign, Healthy School Lunches, and Slow Food in Schools.
5. Educate about the importance of certified organic foods. Ask if you can bring in healthy snacks and use it as an opportunity to teach the kids and students about organic food. Some of the most important foods for your child to always eat organic include: meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, rice, corn, apples, apricots, bell peppers, celery, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raisins, red raspberries, spinach, strawberries, soybeans. Learn more about the dirtiest fruits and vegetables and safer alternatives at EWG’s Food News.

D. Get green school supplies. In most ways this is a no-brainer: buying the organic cotton backpack instead of the vinyl backpack will greatly reduce your environmental footprint. What about your dry-erase markers and scented pens? These are often loaded with solvents such as xylene, a toxin, that your child can be exposed to simply through inhaling the fumes. Water-based markers, chlorine-free paper, natural material notebooks, non-toxic crayons and paints and pencils are all available and healthier options for students and the Earth.

Simple steps to finding safer school supplies: Look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) AP (approved product) label as a good place to start. (Avoid the caution, or CL, label.) Even better, look for materials that go beyond this label by listing all of their ingredients and making sure you know them all (and for young children would be willing to have them eat the ingredients). Find paper products that have the highest possible post-consumer recycled content and are not bleached with chlorine. Here's an article I found with suggestions of greener, afforable school supply brands.

E. Help your child’s classroom go waste-free. Many classes are taking on the challenge of reducing their waste, even if they are in schools or districts that aren’t as supportive of other green goals. The average grade school generates 45kg (99 pounds) of waste per pupil each academic year. Packed lunches are the largest waste culprit for many classrooms (average 67 lbs/year/student). One classroom could save 907 kg (2,000 pounds) of waste in a school year by eliminating lunch waste alone. Other ways to help the class go waste-free are to implement recycling programs and to start compost bins. 

Fun ways to help reduce classroom waste: You can start by simply making your child's lunch waste free. If you are ambitious visit for ideas on how to implement a waste-free program in your child’s classroom. There are numerous websites out there with curriculum ideas to engage students in reducing waste. These include:

Cool School Challenge: 

Greening Schools:

Recycle Now:

As a parent, getting involved in greening your child's classroom is an easy way you can help provide healthier and greener options for your child and others. Plus, what better way to model citizenship? The Green Mama would love to hear your success stories. 

For further reading, links, and references on greening your school, classroom, or daycare visit and don't miss the Green Mama's cheatsheet for green cleaning in your school

Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama: translating today's science into healthier kids and a greener future.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock. Happy student by Gladskikh Tatiana and parent with students by Golden Pixels LLC.

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As a former out-of-school care staffer ...

Having worked in 8 different out-of-school care centres in Vancouver's east side I read this article with great interest and feel that many of the suggestions offered here would be welcome and positive changes in childcare/school settings.

Most of the centres I worked at use diluted bleach solutions to wash everything and most of the time they are not properly measured (eyeballing) and are not regularly re-mixed. Cleaning is often rushed, and hand washing before snack time is tokenistic at best, with the emphasis on getting hands under the tap rather than preventing the spread of diseases.

Supervisors typically do not listen to staff about what types of cleaning solutions should be used in daycare settings, but they do listen to parents!

You can use your voice as a parent to improve conditions at your child's school/care facility, especially if you highlight that you, the staff, the teachers, and the supervisors all want the same thing for children: the best possible environment for the kids.

You are not only doing the kids a favour, but also the staff who often don't have a voice in these decisions or are pressured to keep a schedule rather than look after the best interests of the kids in their care.


Response from IFRA North America

The fragrance industry has a long-standing and effective safety program setting safety standards for the use and manufacturing of fragrance materials. The fact is that fragrances are safe. They are immensely popular with consumers and are used in all sorts of everyday products.The safety and testing of fragrance ingredients is discussed in this animated video: