A Greener Way To Go Back to School

It’s that time again! Already! The backpacks, pencils, markers, glue sticks, erasers, scissors, and crayons. Parents all over America are going out to buy the items on our children’s classroom supplies list or stocking up on college dorm room essentials. Especially because many teachers are very particular about what supplies the kids are supposed to bring, that’s a whole lot of new items being bought from the store and even more old items ending up in landfills. Add in all of those plastic bags for lunches and, of course, the back to school wardrobe, and it can be a very wasteful and indulgent time of the year.

But, fear not! The end of summer doesn’t have to be so wasteful. Plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity to teach your kids, classmates, or students what they can do for the earth.

Back to school supplies:

There are plenty of teachers that are very specific about which supplies to get, down to the brand and color. If the teacher’s supply list gives any wiggle room, opt for items you already own, can get second hand, or that are a greener option. Fortunately, major retailers are making it much easier for customers to gain access to eco-friendly supplies. For example, paper is a major school essential. Each year, 68 million tons of paper is used by the United States alone each year (according to the EPA). So if it takes about 24 trees to produce one ton of paper, think about how many trees each year are being chopped down. Recycled paper can be a way to reduce this number. So by buying recycled notebook paper, we are doing a small part in forest conservation!

Other supplies, like backpacks, can easily be found second hand or made from sustainable materials like hemp. But remember, backpacks can last a long time and with some needle, thread, and patchwork, can be fixed to last even longer. This is a great way to teach kids to appreciate their belongings and the importance of using items as long as we can to reduce waste.

All of the supplies that you need to buy? Think about what you actually need. Do you really need more pens and pencils? Chances are, there are about a billion and a half pens and pencils hidden around the house. And notebooks or paper? Take the time to gather all of the school supplies you already have before buying more.


Whether you are packing or buying, wiser choices can be made. To avoid all of the wasted plastic baggies and paper sacks, consider reusable lunch packing supplies. Using reusable containers easily organizes a lunch with no waste. They come in practically every material, including BPA free plastics, metals, and for older kids and students, glass. There are tons of super cute “bento boxes” or lunch containers that are very kid friendly. And don’t forget those reusable water bottles!

Now for the lunch itself: You don’t have to have those super cute pinterest-worthy bento boxes. As long as they are healthy and delicious, don’t worry about cutting them into heart and animals shapes. If your family is vegetarian/vegan, the options are plenty and super easy to make. Some of my favorites include pb & j sandwiches, hummus with carrots or pita chips, salad with the works, fresh fruit, pretzels with peanut butter, trail mix, dried nori sheets, bell pepper sticks, etc. Even leftovers from the night before are a great treat for kids.

If you’re buying, be an advocate! Make sure your voice is heard in the fight for healthier school lunches, less waste, and fresher choices. Talking to your kids about healthy food choices helps to sway their decision from chocolate milk and towards water.

The “Back to School Wardrobe”:

There are so many “Back to School” sales on clothes, it’s pretty hard to resist. But unless kids have actually outgrown the clothes that they own, there’s really no reason to buy more. Yes, there’s the whole “trend” thing, but the emphasis on wearing clothing until it is worn out or outgrown is a better message to send your kids than following fleeting fashion ideas. Another great way to get new clothes is to arrange a clothing swap with friends. Pass down things that are too small to a family with a younger child and see if a friend can do the same for you.

When new clothes are necessary, thrift stores help to keep clothing out of landfills. And the way that our society gets rid of clothes, there are so many trendy and fashionable options to choose from. When you need something new, like shoes, go for more eco-friendly options like hemp or natural rubber.

Keep it up!

It can be super easy to fall back into old habits and short-cuts, especially with kids. Life gets busy and crazy, so first, don’t beat yourself up for throwing a package of pre-made cookies into the lunch box. Creating systems, routines, and new habits early in the year can help start the eco-friendly momentum to at least carry you to the first school break.

Here are some more ways to keep things green this school year:

  • Recycle homework and flyers that are no longer needed, or use them as scrap paper for things like grocery lists and notes
  • When it comes to food, do the best you can, but otherwise let things go. Our kids are going to be getting plenty of treats at school parties and birthdays and most of the time it’s best to just let kids be kids and to let it go. Instead, focus on bringing yummy but healthy snacks to events and teaching kids how to make good choices.
  • If they don’t already, suggest to the teacher that emailing newsletters, reminders, and notices can cut down on paper and waste. I remember bringing home a weekly stack of paper for my parents, and most people prefer e-mail now anyway.
  • School projects can sometimes be made from reused objects. Poster boards can be reused with a bit of glue or paint and shoeboxes make great display boxes. What a great way to help kids to be creative!
  • The most important thing you can do this year for your kids: PLAY OUTSIDE! Getting kids outside helps them with social skills, their imagination, keeps them fit, and gives them an appreciation for the outdoors and environment.
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