Monday, 19 August 2013

Top 10 Back to School Eco Tips

This week I am participating in David Suzuki's Queen of Green Better Back To School Brigade, to discuss ways to reduce the environmental impact of back to school, which can often be significant with the waste that is produced from shopping, lunches, and commuting. Click on the badge to the left to visit the Queen of Green's site and read all the other amazing bloggers take on greening back to school.

As a mother of school aged children and a teacher I am working hard on crossing adventures off my summer bucket list because September is looming, which means I have to start back to school planning for both my children and myself. I won't be running into stores like Walmart because I believe that all those cheap goods come at a cost and are usually not environmentally friendly in their materials, production, and transportation, not to mention the unethical labour practices of the companies. Being green doesn't just mean buying with a conscience, however; it means doing things a different way.

Here are my back to school eco tips:

  • Go through previous years' school supplies. Make a note of what has worn out or broken. Can it be fixed, or is there something around the home that will do instead of buying new?  
    When we get our list of supplies from the teachers we
    will go through what we have here to see if it will work.

  • Before buying new, try upcycling materials from around the home for supplies. With a little bit of work and mode podge, boxes can be personalized and decorated into pencil cases. Or if you have minimal hand sewing skills a pencil roll can be made in an afternoon from fabric scraps. 
    I easily made this for my girls. Additional pockets can be
    added for erasers, rulers and scissors.

  • Before buying new clothes for growing kids, take an inventory of what they have and decide where the gaps in their wardrobe are. Do they have hand-me-downs? Can they buy gently used clothes? My own daughters have been fortunate to receive many hand-me-downs from friends. After going through all their clothes and passing down to younger sisters this month we have only had to buy three pairs of pants and one pair of shoes in total for my three girls. As exciting as shopping for new clothes can be, the tragedy in the clothing factory in Bangladesh has highlighted, even for the general public, the impact of cheap clothing on people and the environment.
    This is all I have had to buy this year for my three growing girls.

  • Walk or ride a bike to school as much as possible. Many schools have a walk to school week, and my daughters' school does Foot Power Wednesday all year. I realize that this can be challenging or impossible for working parents who need to drop their children off on their way to work, but if it is at all possible, it is a great way to get fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise. 
    If you are able to work it into your schedule, grab a coffee or tea
    and walk to school with your kids

  • Make a pledge to pack more local, organic, in-season produce for lunches. It takes more time in the hectic morning routine to pack a lunch with fresh ingredients (rather than grabbing packaged food), and often kids can be fussy eaters, but I believe it is important to eat in season produce to reduce the distance my food must travel. We have a rule in our home that if they don't like what is in their lunch they must bring it home for us to see and we won't be upset.

  • As plastic lunch containers and water bottles break or get lost, replace them with stainless steel options. BPA free plastic is still plastic and has its own risks and problems, which shouldn't surprise anyone. 
    I purchased these at my favourite on line eco shop
    My Little Green Shop. Be sure to put names on the containers
    as these are more expensive than plastic, and if your kids are
    anything like mine, these get misplaced on a regular basis. 

  • If your school does not have food waste composting (which most don't), teach your children to bring home food waste for composting. My oldest daughter had a teacher with a zero waste policy and this meant that any lunch and snack waste was sent home to make parents aware of the impact of their lunch choices. This stuck with us, and now because composting is big in our home my daughters bring home apple cores, banana peels and other food waste. There are some innovative schools that are using composting systems like Bokashi but this is still new, partially because of pest problems. 
    Image source: YardFarm Austin on Flickr

  • Learn about your school's existing green programs. You might be surprised by what your school already has in place and it is important to encourage them and support what they are doing to make a difference.

  • Make eco suggestions to your school, such as the option of e-newsletters to cut back on paper waste. By the end of the month the paper from school that accumulates on my kitchen table is quite remarkable. Or suggest to teachers that they reduce the amount of work that they laminate in plastic, which will take hundreds of years, if not more, to break down in a landfill. Replacing posters can be expensive and we all want to keep treasures and memories from your children's youth, but forever is too long and unnecessary. As mentioned above, perhaps you would like to see a school composting, or even a gardening program. Be warned, however, that you should be prepared to volunteer to make your ideas happen because teachers are already overburdened with large classes and extra curricular activities and are doing the best they can. 

Each week David Suzuki's Queen of Green Better Back To Brigade has a giveaway, and this week it is generously sponsored by Planet Box, Raspberry Kids, Today I Ate A Rainbow, and Abeego. Enter the contest below for your chance to win!

 Raspberry Kids has generously offered a 10% discount to brigaders and their communities. Use the code BetterBackToSchool10 at check out!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Luckily at my children's school they have worm composting which the kids all take turns helping with. We also have a great thrift store that we find awesome clothing at!

    1. That's fantastic Jaime! I'm so glad to hear of some schools out there that are delving into composting. And a good thrift store is gold. We have a good local one for kids' clothes but sadly I have found nothing there that is suitable for me.

  2. I am proud to say that we are now walking to school every day! And our school just started a composting program. Yay! Thanks for all the great suggestions here.

    1. Awesome Debi! I wish I could walk to school every day, but I work outside the home 50%. I do it on my days off, which I very much look forward to. And hooray for the composting program! At the school where I work there have been major pest problems (mice) so I suspect that it will be a hard sell.

  3. At the end of the school year I put away any salvageable school supplies to use for the following year. There really is no need to repurchase scissors, rulers, ect... Putting them away eliminates the chances of them getting lost or played with all summer.

    Thanks for the other great tips!