The next time you reach into the pantry to grab a plastic sandwich bag for your child’s lunch, think about this: It takes an unbelievable one thousand years for it to decompose. The process of making these small baggies uses up valuable natural resources, including energy to manufacture and transport them. And every year animals all over the world suffer injury or death from plastic bag waste.

Those small baggies may seem like no big deal, but the footprint they are leaving on our planet (and your wallet) is. If you’re packing two kids’ lunches every day, with a sandwich and a bag of snacks, you’re spending about $30 a year on those flimsy little see-through bags.

Here are 6 ways you can "green up" your child's lunch box while saving both the planet and the green in your pocketbook:

  • Start with the container. After recent controversy about the amount of lead in children’s lunch boxes, there is no better time to look for an alternative, such as the Laptop Lunchbox. This eco-friendly option—popping up in cafeterias all over the world for a few years now—was invented by two moms who saw first-hand how much waste was happening at lunch time. "When my kids started preschool in the U.S., it was natural for me to pack their lunches in the bento boxes I had brought back from Japan,” explains Amy Hemmert, president and co-founder of Obentec. “But while at their preschool, I noticed that most of the other children’s lunches were made up of processed, prepackaged foods. These containers can’t be resealed, so the children would take a few bites and sips and throw the rest away—packaging, food, and all ... I just knew there had to be a better way.”
  • Buy in bulk. Forget the individually packaged foods. They make look convenient, but there’s so much waste involved. Buy large containers of snacks and use refillable smaller containers to tote them in.
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle for your child. Forget about the juice boxes (which are horrible for the environment) and pour your child’s juice or water into something he can use again and again. There are some great stainless steel models out on the market now.
  • Ditch the sandwich bag. Those flimsy plastic bags may not seem like much, but stacked up in a pile, one child can toss quite a few of those in the trash each year. Which adds to heaps and heaps in a landfill for an entire school population. The Wrap-n-Mat is a reusable sandwich wrapper. Easy to clean and easy to use. Some parents make their own version of this at home or simply use a cloth napkin and some masking tape to wrap up the daily PB and J.
  • Think local. Shop your farmer’s market for foods that are not only healthier, but require no storage container at all. A freshly picked apple from this fall’s harvest comes ready to pack as is.
  • Lean on leftovers. A thermos can usually keep anything (even non-liquids) warm until lunch time. And there’s usually enough left from dinner to scrape together a small portion for lunch the next day. Pastas, soups, and salads are great. But even vegetables and grilled chicken can be tossed together in a thermos for a better lunch.

One added bonus to sending reusable containers with lunch is that you get to see what your child is eating. Instead of taking two bites of his yogurt and trashing the rest of the container, he’ll be packing everything back up to take home. A quick look will tell you what to pack again and what to forget about.

With a little effort and a few new products, parents can help reduce the waste on our planet – one sandwich baggy at a time.