6 Sustainable Back to School Tips

Background with simple pencils and the inscription back to school. School background.

For kids, that time before the new semester when new books, backpacks and lunchboxes are needed is potentially one of the most exciting parts of the school year. For adults, it can be a complex and stressful logistical operation. According to techdump, the average family spends around $600 each fall on new school supplies. So how can you combine the school’s “three R’s” of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic with that of the planet’s reduce, reuse and recycle, and find it all quickly and affordably?! It might sound like too much to ask, but we’re going to show you it’s doable.

1. If you don’t buy it, you can’t waste it
Before making any purchases, make an inventory of what you need to buy. Just because something is used doesn’t mean it isn’t working anymore. We all enjoy the thrill of a new purchase but we can only waste what we’ve already bought. That’s why seriously considering what needs replacing and what will last another year or two is important. Plus, this can be a great activity to get the kids involved and teach them the importance of making eco-friendly choices.
2. Explain to your children why you’re making greener choices
Protecting the environment, making greener choices, not buying into the conspicuous consumerist culture that lives so boldly in our society is great. But when our children understand the reasoning behind these things they are more likely to continue independently making these choices themselves long-term, and they’re more likely to get onboard and even get excited about buying less.
3. When a purchase is needed, consider purchasing second-hand first

Textbooks can easily be sourced second hand as students who have moved up a grade no longer have a use for them. Ebay and Facebook Marketplace are great places to start your search as well as Amazon Textbook Rentals. For both textbooks and school clothes, schools and colleges will often have an inner network or annual fair where parents can purchase these second hand. This is a brilliant way to reuse and recycle as students move up grades, and it’s also a great money saver!

Reusing and recycling is particularly important for school clothes. One Green Planet finds the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry of all to our planet. When it comes to textbooks, the Environmental Paper Network finds if the US reduces it’s paper consumption annually by just 10%, we could power 228,000 homes, conserve 11 billion gallons of water and prevent carbon emissions equivalent to removing 279,000 cars from the road.

4. When you have to buy new, consider eco-friendly brands and businesses
Some things such as water bottles, lunch boxes and stationary can’t be bought second hand. Where possible, we recommend purchasing from businesses with a strong and proven eco-friendly stance.
5. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Not only do we need to make eco-friendly purchases but we also need to dispose of used and worn out clothes and plastics in a green way. In the US, 85% of all textiles are thrown into landfill or burned. Many materials can take years or even decades to decompose.

So how should we dispose of our unwanted clothing? For outgrown school uniforms that are still in good shape, consider keeping these items for younger siblings or donating to the school to make available for other students. For non-school specific clothing, consider donating this to charity shops or friends and family members with children. When it comes to worn out and old clothing, find the clothes recycling bins in your area. These are normally permanent members of the community, situated in areas frequently visited by the public, such as shops, post offices and libraries and can be found with a quick google search or by asking around.

There are even some big-name stores, such as American Eagle Outfitters and Eileen Fisher, that encourage customers to donate their worn and unwanted clothing and give you a reward for doing so.

6. Being green goes beyond back to school
After the worn clothes, the lunch box that didn’t close anymore, the water bottle that leaked and the pencil case with holes have all been replaced and the old ones recycled, it’s important to remember being green is not a one-time annual event. It’s a lifestyle and long-term commitment to our planet.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne Marie Bonneau

To be an imperfect member of our In This Together Zero-Waste Community, please sign our pledge today to support brands, policies & politicians who are doing their part to make excessive waste a thing of the past.

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