Get Schooled in Sustainable Back-to-School Tips
Written by A. Pruitt
Did you know the average family with school age children will spend $669.28 on back-to-school purchases? Though we often equate back-to-school with buying a lot of new stuff, spending a lot of cash is not a requirement! When it comes to a sustainable back-to-school season, remember the three R's—reduce, reuse, and recycle!
Making a list and checking it twice. Planning ahead can help create a more sustainable back-to-school season. Before heading out to the stores, consider what you will really need this year. Then, consult what you already have and determine what is still usable. Many supplies are needed year after year. Items like pencil sharpeners, rulers, lunchboxes, and three-ring binders are durable and reusable. Backpacks are another necessary, but frequently expensive item. Ease the burden on the planet and your wallet by repairing and reusing last year’s backpack. If you do not have a backpack, consider purchasing one made of quality materials, perhaps one with a good warranty. Many companies sell backpacks with lifetime warranties, which can be returned to the manufacturer for repair!
Once you have created a careful inventory of the items that can be reused, create a list of the additional items you absolutely need. Making a list will help you avoid impulse purchases once you are out shopping. For items that must be purchased new, such as pencils or notebook paper, look for post-consumer recycled or biodegradable products. You can reduce the amount of paper you need by writing on both sides and filling an entire notebook cover-to-cover before purchasing a new one. Remember to recycle your paper when you are finished!
Swap ‘til you Drop! Almost half the money spent on back-to-school shopping goes toward buying clothes. Get creative this year and seek out some duds that are not brand new, but new to you! Thrift stores, consignment shops, and clothing swaps are excellent ways to get used and gently worn clothing without the expensive price tag. Plus, swapping or donating items that you have outgrown will keep clothing out of crowded landfills!
Eat Green! Lunch time provides another opportunity to be more sustainable! Instead of brown bags, opt for washable, reusable containers for toting your lunch. If you don’t already have a reusable lunch bag, be sure to invest in one made from recycled materials or natural materials, like organic cotton. Instead of plastic bags and plastic wrap, use reusable containers. Packing whole, healthy foods is another way to avoid creating excess waste. Instead of individually-packaged or processed items, foods like apples and bananas require no extra packaging and their peels and cores can be composted! For beverages, replace sugary drinks in individual plastic containers with metal containers. Many come in kid-friendly sizes and designs, and they can be refilled throughout the day with fresh water at no charge!
Get on two wheels (or feet)! Walking and biking are two of the most sustainable ways to get to school! The Safe Routes to Schools program and Walk to School Month are initiatives to improve safe access to schools. If you are within walking or biking distance of your school but are concerned about safety, consider organizing a walking bus or bicycle train! Walking buses operate much like traditional bus routes, with adult “drivers” and “conductors.” Walking buses and bicycle trains provide adult supervision and offer both children and adults the opportunity to get some exercise while socializing! Also, all that walking and biking reduces carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels! If you find yourself too far from school to walk or bike, consider riding the bus. Most school buses can safely hold 45 to 60 children, studies have shown them to be more sustainable than the operation of the equivalent number of single-occupancy vehicles (even hybrids)! If the bus is infeasible or unavailable, you can also start a local rideshare or carpool!