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Reusable snack bags are kid-tested, mom-designed

January 23, 2009 | 10:28 am

Dajo bag The detritus of a school lunch isn't pretty. It's a smorgasbord of smashed crackers and fermenting edamame, most of it ensconced in little plastic bags destined for lifelong preservation in a landfill. Multiply that by millions, and you have the daily reality of the lunch-making American mom. Pack it, send it, trash it. Rewind and repeat.

That was the situation for Arlene Wilske -- a mom (and former airline pilot) who decided to put an end to the plastic madness. When the Dana Point mother of two realized she was using six baggies a day packing lunches for her kids, she set to work designing a line of reusables. Wanting a material that was soft (so it fit in her kids' lunch boxes), durable (to withstand repeated washings) and approved for use with food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she decided upon lightweight, rip-stop nylon coated with the same FDA-approved material that's used on food-processing-plant conveyor belts. The result was Dajo bags in two designs -- sandwich and snack.

Reusable snack bags aren't new. There are a handful of other designs on the market made from various substances and sold at roughly the same price point. What's nice about the Dajo bags is the design, material and construction -- all of which were tested for four months last summer with the help of eight other moms and their 16 kids. The refined product is now on the market, so I thought I'd conduct my own mommy test: I used one bag for my son's lunch and the other for my own.

For my lunch, I used the snack bag, which sits upright on a round base and closes with a drawstring. It was packed with sliced cucumbers, all of which stayed safe, leak-free and sound in their rip-stop package. But the real test was my kindergartner. Like Wilske's children, my boy is used to throwing his baggies in the trash. So my first concern in switching from a throwaway snack bag to a reusable was that he might toss it. Feeling more than a little like Vanna White the morning of my experiment, I showed him the sandwich pouch that was going to be carrying some of his snack-time goodies and told him not to throw it away, all but wagging my finger. I stuffed it with Chex, sealed the Velcro closure and threw it in his lunchbox. But the proof of the pudding wasn't until he got home and I checked to see that it was still there. It was. So far so good.

Next phase: washing. The crumbs were easy to get out of the sandwich bag because the corners of the bag are curved. The snack bag was also easy to clean because it has such a wide opening. I filled both with soapy water, rinsed them out and propped them on their sides to dry. The material is very lightweight, so they dried in less than an hour. At $19.95 for a set of three, Dajo bags are more expensive than Ziplocs in terms of up-front cost, but they pay themselves off fairly quickly. That's to say nothing of the savings to a mom's conscience and our country's landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one child creates about 67 pounds of lunch waste per year.

-- Susan Carpenter

Credit: Dajo Bags