My school-lunchbox days coincided with the birth of the juice box, but my mother always sent me to school with a Thermos full of Tang instead of the cool, new Capri Sun pouches that other kids had and that I longed for.
So I always assumed the thermos had to be the more frugal option. One would guess that it's a greener choice, too. And I love it when frugality and eco-friendliness mingle, especially these days.
So I decided to take a good, hard look at the juice boxes that are still coveted by the under-10 set.
When it comes to the box itself, Tetra briks are, overall, a relatively eco-friendly type of packaging, as I mentioned last fall in a column about wine. Treehugger points out that these brick-shaped containers require less energy to make and take up less space as waste than similarly-sized glass or plastic bottles.
They're also lighter than glass, shaped for space-efficient packing and have the best ratio of packaging to liquid, all of which make them less energy-intensive to ship than bottles.
Still, the folks at Grist recommend choosing one big plastic bottle over a lot of little boxes, and I have to agree.
Whether you shop at your local supermarket or in bulk at Costco (Stock Quote: COST) (COST) - Get Report, there's a lot more packaging in a bunch of single-serving containers, especially when you consider the plastic or cardboard that your 6- or 10- or 20-pack comes wrapped in.
Guess Mom knew best after all, as usual.
Additionally, only 24 states have communities that recycle juice boxes -- check with the Aseptic Packaging Council to see if yours does. And even if you can recycle the boxes at home, the chances are small that your kid's school recycles them.
(COST) - Get ReportMoreover, if you get your youngster into the habit of using and tossing out single-serving containers now, when they get too old for their juice boxes they may think nothing of switching to less eco-friendly plastic bottles of pseudo water or juice or iced tea and probably won't recycle those away from home either.
(COST) - Get ReportWhen it comes to saving money, milk-drinkers are much better off buying by the gallon and investing in a reusable bottle from the likes of Rubbermaid (NWL) - Get Report, which doesn't cost much and can survive a few school years if your child manages to hold on to it. (Or if your son or daughter wants to run with the eco-hipsters in his or her class, you can spring for something from Kleen Kanteen.)
Single-serving packs of milk were 12 cents an ounce, or close to 19 cents for organic, in my local supermarket, while a gallon of hormone- and antibiotic-free milk costs just a few pennies per ounce.
(COST) - Get Report (NWL) - Get ReportJuice boxes cost about 5-12 cents per ounce of juice locally, while large plastic bottles of juice cost about 6-13 cents an ounce (some organic juice was priced as much as 19 cents). In both cases, the more artificial and sugary drinks like Kool-Aid (by Kraft (KFT) ) were cheaper, while the drinks that were all juice fell toward the higher end. Organic options were the most expensive.
(COST) - Get Report (NWL) - Get Report (KFT) However, the selection of flavors in box form was kid-friendly, which means it was limited and heavy on sugar-rich apple, pear and white grape juice as primary flavors and sweeteners. There was also a lot of sugar- and corn-syrup-filled fruit punch. Opting for large bottles of juice gives you more and healthier options. And since these bottles don't leave the house, they're more likely to be recycled.
Additionally, eschewing the juice boxes lets you mix juice with water to cut down on calories and sugar (and to make the juice go further). You can also put plain old water in your youngster's reusable bottle once in a while, which costs next to nothing and is healthier still -- and greener, too.