As the summer begins to wind down, children of all ages will be headed back to school. It happens every year- parents will ravage malls and stores everywhere to complete the annual tradition of back-to-school shopping. Hundreds of dollars in new clothes, shoes, and school supplies will be purchased this month bankrupting wallets and polluting our planet’s resources. Is a package of 68 pens that smell like fruit really necessary?
The average school tosses 38 tons of paper out- that is equivalent to 644 trees- each year. Although it is important to be prepared, it is equally important to try and be as green as possible. Yes, even when doing back-to-school shopping. Purchasing post-consumer paper and ensuring that paper also gets recycled can make a big difference.
Read on + learn how TreeHugger.com advises all of us to be more green when sending the kids back to school.
Top Green Back to School Tips
Get off to a Good Green Start Plan out your day (and your year) at school, and ask yourself some questions. Are they really going to ride that new bike enough to warrant a new set of wheels? Is another reusable lunch bag or canister really necessary? Do they really need a new ruler? The measurements haven’t changed over the summer. Make a list of what you absolutely know they need, what you think they might need, and what they want.
Take Inventory and Avoid Duplicates Take a careful inventory of what you already have that can be used again — think more durable items, like clothes and shoes — and what’s still waiting to be used for the first time — extra packs of pencils, notebooks, etc. Avoid last-minute impulse purchases by making a list of what you need and sticking to it. before you head to the store.
Find Green Clothes Almost half of the money spent on back to school shopping goes to buying clothes, but new threads don’t have to come with sticker shock. Hand-me-downs are a great place to get started, and thrift stores and events like Swap-o-Rama-Rama can be a fun and an inexpensive way to send your kiddos back to school in low-impact duds. If these options are exhausted before your list is done, and you have to buy new, go for well-made, high-quality choices made from more sustainable fabrics like organic cotton or bamboo rather than disposable fashion that’ll wear out.
Choose Greener Pens and Pencils The days of package upon package of disposable pen and pencil are gone, replaced by biodegradable pencils, refillable pens, and recycled versions of both. Once you have greener options in hand, encourage your youngsters to hang on to each pencil ’til it wears down to the nub, and to each pen as long as possible.
Don’t be a Paper Pusher Buy products with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content possible, that is processed chlorine free (PCF). Next, use these products to their maximum efficiency by printing on both sides of the paper, using paper already printed on one side for drafts (or better yet editing all drafts in the computer itself), and filling notebooks from cover to cover before purchasing a new one. And it never hurts to ask teachers if you can email in your work.
Beware the Miscellaneous Supply Overload Don’t be tempted by the better deal on a dozen bottles of glue if you know you’ll only need three bottles between now and next spring. If it doesn’t have to come out of the backpack every day (or it is a backpack), think twice about loading up at the beginning of the year.
Think Outside the Lunch-Box Don’t brown bag it; instead opt for a washable, reusable container to tote your lunch too and fro. Just make sure to avoid vinyl lunch boxes which have been shown to contain harmful levels of lead. Instead, invest in a PVC-free, thermally insulated lunch bag, one made from recycled juice boxes or from organic cotton and keep lunches cool by freezing water or juice in a reusable container and putting it in the bag. Instead of using baggies and plastic wrap for sandwiches and snacks, use reusable plastic containers. For other beverages, beware of plastic bottles which may contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical. Instead go with metal ones.
Don’t Start a Food Fight When it comes to the actual food that goes in the lunch box. Make extra for dinner the night before, leftovers make great lunches. Pack healthy green lunches kids will want to eat, and get them involved in choosing lunch ingredients, since they’ll be less likely to pitch stuff they want to eat. Forget the mini-packs of Cheetos and Doritos; apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruit are heathful, waste-free snackables that come with their own compostable wrapping. And, don’t forget: Kids need snacks as well as lunch. Make homemade granola bars rather than individually wrapped purchased bars. Or send them with fruit or vegetable sticks and a couple of slices of cheese.
Walking, Biking, Busing: Green Transportation to School Going green while getting back and forth to school offers a familiar refrain: human power — walking or biking — is best; riding the bus is next; driving alone is last. Events like Walk to School Month and activities like the Walking Bus are making it easier and safer for kids to get to school under their own power; if you don’t live close enough to walk, and finding a safe route to bike ride is a green way to go, too. Beyond that, even though most school buses get single-digit miles per gallon, they can also hold upwards of 60 or 70 youngsters, making them a cleaner option than single-occupancy cars. If walking, biking, or busing aren’t in the cards, be sure to divide the ride and start a parent carpool.
Do This Stuff All Year Greening your back to school experience is a great way to start the year, and a great way to make progress toward a sustainable lifestyle, but there’s no reason to stop after the year has just started. Apply the lessons you’ve learned preparing to go back to school to other parts of your non-scholastic life, and, when it comes time to re-supply, follow the tips to stay prepared, organized, and green.