Back to School, Back to the Environment

Bob Farnham | September 3, 2015 | Seasonality

Going back to school can feel daunting- so many school supplies, clothes, schedules, and new territory to chart. It can also be quite pricey and difficult to round up new school gear. With a little thinking ahead we can make back to school easier on our time, on our bank accounts, and on our planet.

Environmentally-friendly supplies: Be conscious of your purchase decisions. There are many companies that offer products from recycled materials or post-waste materials. Some notebooks are made with recycled paper, such as New Leaf Paper. As for writing materials, choose pencils that are FSC-certified, which ensures that wood is sustainably harvested. You can purchase some of these through Papermate or Forest Choice.

Reuse supplies: You don’t necessarily have to buy new supplies. If you purchase one high-quality backpack (made from recycled fabrics or organic cotton), take care of it, and keep using it. If a zipper breaks, take it to a local laundromat or seamstress and have it replaced. Clean it regularly, and store it indoors. You can also check local sites such as Craigslist or Freecycle to purchase or trade clothes, supplies, lunch boxes, shoes, or backpacks.

Litter free lunches: The average school-age child who uses disposable lunch products generates about 67 pounds of waste every school year. This equates to about 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for every school! Pack a reusable napkin and silverware. Trade small plastic zip bags for reusable food containers. Skip juice boxes and send your child with a reusable drink container.

Environmental clubs: Check your child’s school to find out if there is an environmental club or a group that encourages kids to preserve our planet and its resources. It is important for kids to learn valuable skills such as recycling, reusing, composting, gardening, and problem-solving. These types of programs can help strengthen a school community and create a healthy learning environment.

Learn about ways to empower your kids and your school to make a difference:

  • The Green Schools Initiative Take Action page provides tips for passing a school board resolution and their 7 Steps to a Green School was adapted from Eco Schools International.
  • There are a variety of state green schools programs and networks on the Resources page of Green School Programs.
  • The National PTA lists out important information on health and environmental issues including updating existing school buildings which are polluted with indoor air, molds, and toxic chemicals and pesticides).
  • Green Purchasing Policies can help guide you to passing an environmentally friendly-purchasing policy at your school with ideas and sample policies from the Buying Guide. Also see Responsible Purchasing Network and model policies.

Carpooling: By carpooling with at least one other person, you are taking one car off the road for one day’s commute, saving an estimated 26 lbs of CO2 (based on the average distance to and from school in a day). There are several options here- a neighbor, a classmate, or several neighbors or classmates! You can set up a weekly schedule and each of you takes turns based on the number of seats available. Or have your kids ride the bus!

Your Community: Don’t forget that purchasing school supplies can be a financial strain for some families. Search for opportunities to help children in your community stay in school and pursue their studies. There are always opportunities to help, and cities throughout the U.S. have special school supply drop-off sites. You can find them by doing a quick Google search. If you cannot find one, create your own local school supply drive—here’s how.

Here are some other little tips for going back to school eco-minded:

  • Buy beeswax or soy-based crayons, water-based paints, and water-based markers and glue.
  • Buy in bulk and avoid individually prepackaged items.
  • Support local food producers when packing lunches.
  • Encourage a clean air zone policy for your school, so school buses and parents dropping off and picking up kids are not idling in front of the school.
  • If your kids are old enough, encourage walking or bicycling to school.
  • Make a recycle bin just for school papers that seem to come home in bulk!

How are you going back to school more green this year? Not every tip has to be executed perfectly, but with time and teamwork, every bit helps.

Excellent further reading:

A waste-reduction guide for schools and groups.

Info on expanding school recycling programs.

More great back to school ideas with product links.

Tips on waste-reduction on schools.

Featured image by Jdmoar/Flickr


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