Back To School. It’s one of the busiest times in the stores as parents flock in by the thousands to buy more pencils, crayons and folders, among other popular items on the School Supply List. Before we continue, I encourage you to take a quick mental tally of how many pencils, crayons and perfectly fine folders you have lying around the house as you read this. My guess is, you probably have the 48 pencils (that just need to be sharpened), enough crayons to fit in a 24 count box and several folders in every color of the rainbow. And don’t even get me started on how many cow composition notebooks are in the workbook drawer that have 3/4 of the pages completely untouched. I imagine you know where I’m going with this so I will go ahead and jump right into our 9 Ways to Green Your “Back To School”:
- Reuse: Hands down, this is the easiest, greenest and cheapest way to minimize your carbon footprint this Back To School season. With School Supply Lists in hand, peruse your stashes of leftover school supplies and set aside anything that matches an item on the list. Don’t have an exact match? You have the triple brad, dual front pocket, plastic folder in bright yellow instead of the requested pale yellow. I challenge you to try to get away with using it instead of buying new. After all, is the teacher going to say “I’m sorry, I can’t accept this perfectly fine folder. You’ll need to drive your gas-guzzliing SUV to the “bulls-eye” store across town for that pale yellow folder because the stores over here are completely sold out. And we prefer that the item is new.”? I highly doubt and sincerely hope that this would never happen. In the spirit of being a teacher and modeling positive behaviors for our children, I imagine the teacher would respond with “That bright yellow folder is perfect. In fact, it is even better since it is being ‘reused’.” Since some items you might reuse, like pencils and glue sticks, may only have about 3/4 of their life left, be sure to let the teacher know that when your child’s supplies run low/out, you will be happy to send in replacements. A pleasant side-effect of reusing supplies and others seeing you do it is that the teacher and possibly other parents will be more aware of this process of reusing and may try to implement it moving forward, as well.
- Buy Eco-Friendly: Without doubt, there will be items that you need to purchase at a store. Whenever possible, look to purchase items that are made from recycled materials and that can be recycled once their lifespan is complete. Most stores will carry an eco-friendly option or two, but you can also check out Naked Binder and TreeSmart for other options. Consider your back-to-school budget the same as your “vote”. Spend it on eco-friendly items and let the producers know those are the products you, the consumer, are willing to buy; not the environmentally irresponsible items. Also, when you pay a little more for items made from recycled materials, you will likely be more inclined to teach your children to use their supplies wisely and waste less. Priceless.
- Practice Package Abstinence: The EPA has stated that “packaging waste is responsible for more than 30% of all the waste generated each year.” Strive to find the delicate balance between buying only as much as you need but also buying in bulk to minimize packaging. Buying in bulk and splitting with a neighbor is a great solution.
- Do A Backpack Swap: Most backpacks will outlast the color/style preference of it’s rather particular little owner. When our kids say they want a “new” backpack, what they really mean is they want one that looks different from the one they had last year. Swap backpacks with a neighbor or friend. Have a plain backpack shoved in a closet? Try upcycling it by sewing on patches, adding iron-ons or let your little one decorate it with decorative pins or fabric markers. Check out local second-hand stores before buying new.
- Pack Waste-Free Lunches: Refer to Tip #1 and reuse when possible. When the time comes to purchase some new lunch digs (careful to avoid vinyl lunch boxes as they can contain harmful amounts of lead), there are a plethora of styles and designs in eco-friendly options. See our favorite reusuable lunch items here. We’ve gotcha covered from the 6 piece lunch kit all the way down to the individual, canteen, reusable snack/sandwich bag, stainless steel containers and cloth napkin. As for the silverware, you’ll probably find that your kids won’t throw it away if they aren’t getting up to throw anything else away. We use old mismatched forks/spoons and I also found some tiny, inexpensive metal ones at Ikea that have lasted for years. As for what goes in all of these cool containers, keep thinking waste-free. Most fruits and veggies don’t have wrappers, so start there. Packing real, whole foods will not only minimize trash, but will keep your kid’s body and brain well-fueled for the school day.
- Utilize Online Resources: For those older students, you’ll save bank and the planet when buying used textbooks at the campus store or utilizing online versions. Check out CourseSmart.
- Green Your Clothes Routine: Hand down clothes, shoes and uniforms that don’t fit your children anymore and look for someone who might have hand-me-downs that you can inherit. If your closet is still a little too “naked”, see what you can find at a second-hand store. When all else fails and you have an absolute need for a clothing item, consider these suggestions: (a) Be okay with spending more for higher quality clothing that will last longer. It’s a wash financially and better for the planet. (b) Buy clothing made from recycled goods. (c) Buy clothing made from organic cotton or bamboo clothing with the label Lyocell or Tencel, indicating less toxic chemicals are used during processing. (d) Check out our Another One Bites The Dust post to see more about the impact of the textile industry on our environment.
- Walk, Bike, Carpool Or Ride The Bus To School: Pretty self-explanatory. The fewer cars on the road, the less air pollution and fuel used. As a bonus to the young walkers and bikers: Starting the day (after a good breakfast, of course) with a bit of exercise gets the blood flowing and the brain ready to learn!
- Start Or Join A Green Committee At School: There are usually plenty of opportunities in the schools themselves to make them greener facilities. Ensure that a recycling program is in place for common recyclables like papers and plastics. Terracycle and TreeSmart offer money back to schools when they send in recyclable items in one or more of their many brigades, such as juice pouches, glue sticks, newspapers, etc. Plan a school family fun night or week of events to create awareness around more sustainable habits. Plant a garden at the school or start a garden club. Make certain the cafeteria is serving on reusable trays and using reusable silverware. The possibilities here are endless. Typically, the biggest limitation to making a huge impact is simply manpower. Volunteer, it’s a great cause. Please share any comments with us and our readers regarding your own ideas or experiences in being a part of a green committee at your school. We have only one planet. We truly are in this together.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like our Green Your Grocery Trip post.