It’s that time of year again: Anyone with children is frantically stocking up on new clothes and shoes, backpacks, lunchboxes, school supplies, and all the other accoutrements for the start of a new school year.
My plan this year, as I’m shopping for my first grader’s return to school, is to score some extra credit with some more environmentally-friendly choices. I’m hoping that by assessing used stuff and making choices for supplies that are reusable or created in a more sustainable way, we’ll be able to minimize waste and reduce our carbon footprint.
Here are some eco-friendly choices that you, too, can make while you’re getting your kids ready for school:
1. Shop consignment stores for uniforms or school clothes, or get hand-me-downs from older friends. Reusing clothing means that you’ll help reduce the raw materials and resources used to make new clothes… and you’ll save money, too. If you do buy new threads, try to keep them in good condition so that you can pass them along when they’re outgrown.
2. Invest in good-quality reusable lunchbox gear. One year, we went through two or three lunchboxes over the course of the year, as they got stained or smelly. Then one year I spent a little more money and bought a high-quality lunchbox that had a wipe-clean interior, and it lasted all year long without getting gross. Start the year with a set of BPA-free plastic containers of various sizes, reusable flatware, thermal containers for soups and warm pasta dishes, and a couple of reusable bottles for milk or water (be sure to label everything so that it’ll make it home!). You’ll be able to pack a waste-free lunch all year long.
3. Stock up on green school supplies. Most back-to-school sections or office supply stores have a good selection of eco-friendly goods: Recycled-paper notebooks, pencils made from sustainable wood, crayons and other art supplies made of natural materials. I like to invest in these options when I can, and I also save scrap paper from my printer for my child to practice her writing at home.
4. Get used or digital books. For students who are old enough to have assigned reading lists of novels, or for college students who need certain textbooks, there are plenty of ways to avoid buying a brand-new book. Shopping used bookstores (or used book websites) or sharing copies among classmates is a great way to help reduce the paper, ink and manufacturing resources used to produce new books. Another option: Get your student an e-reader and buy the books digitally. You’ll still cut down on those printing resources, as well as the energy used in shipping a paper copy, or the gas it takes to get to the bookstore.
5. Buy an upcycled school bag. There are some great options for backpacks, totes and messenger bags that are made from otherwise-wasted materials. Look for backpacks made from used sailcloth or messenger bags made of old bike inner tubes and billboards.
Aside from being more sustainable, these choices serve an even more significant purpose: They’ll teach your children the importance of taking care of the environment.