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RISMEDIA, August 28, 2010—(MCT)—Back-to-school time brings the rush for new lunchboxes, school supplies and clothing. Most of the time, we’re so busy crossing items off our lists we don’t have time to worry about whether the item is eco-friendly or not.

If you are looking to reduce your eco footprint without spending extra money this back-to-school season, here are a few ideas to get you started.

If your child will carry a lunchbox this year, strive to pack lunches that are 100% waste-free. Start with a reusable lunchbox or bag, keeping an eye open for one made from recycled material. Invest in a few reusable food containers to cut down on those single-use plastic baggies.

Keep in mind the types of food items you’ll be packing as you choose between sizes. And don’t forget you can reuse small plastic containers of foods that you’ve already purchased such as lunchmeats, cheeses and butter. Fill up a reusable bottle with your child’s favorite drink to keep them hydrated throughout the day.

As for cutlery, pack a cheap fork and spoon and then toss in a reusable napkin or one made from recycled paper. Don’t worry about reusable items being tossed in the trash because with this lunch system, your kids won’t need to visit the garbage can. Everything gets packed up and comes right back home. You can also save money on your weekly grocery shopping by choosing bulk food items and creating your own single size servings.

School supplies are a biggie. Before shopping, make sure there aren’t perfectly good backpacks, binders, or pencil pouches from last year that you can reuse. If you do need to go new, look for binders and clipboards made from recycled plastic or notebooks and journals constructed of recycled paper. Even cool pencil pouches can be found made from recycled juice boxes, among other things.

And who can forget the new clothes? We know kids agonize over the perfect back-to-school outfits, but you don’t need to break the bank to get them dressed. Children and teen resale shops have brand name clothes in gently used, broken-in condition. Sometimes you even get lucky and find brand new items with the tags still attached.

Another idea, especially for girls, is to host a clothing swap before school starts. Have each girl bring gently used items they no longer wear and let them swap with their friends.

For new clothing items, look for ones made from sustainable sources and treated with minimal amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals. Items made of organic cotton and denim are a good place to start. Try to avoid clothing labeled wrinkle resistant, stain-proof or odor resistant, which are commonly treated with untested chemicals.

There’s no better time than right now to make sure your kids are practicing the three R’s—reduce, reuse and recycle. Do your part and teach them how they too can help care for our planet by giving used items a second life and choosing products made from recycled materials.

(c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.