Tips for Going Back to School Green
For many kids, one of the few highlights of heading back to school is the barrage of new stuff they get to coerce their parents into buying. Unfortunately for the planet, that can mean mounds of waste in the form of packaging and resources needed to make all those shiny new supplies. Following are our favorite tips for sending your kids back to school with new supplies, clothes, etc. with less environmental impact. Don’t be overwhelmed, just try a couple ideas to get started.
1. Use Human Power for Getting to and From School
Going green while getting back and forth to school offers a familiar refrain: human power — walking or biking — is best; riding the bus is next; organizing a carpool is next; driving alone is last. Use GoLafayette to learn about all the options for getting to school. It’s simple! Just enter your home street address and then pick your school and click “View Your Options.”
Events like Walk to School Month and activities like the Walking Bus are making it easier and safer for kids to get to school under their own power; if you don’t live close enough to walk, and finding a safe bike route to school is a green way to go, too. Beyond that, even though most school buses get single-digit miles per gallon, they can also hold upwards of 60 or 70 youngsters, making them a cleaner option than single-occupancy cars (Plenty did the math for a single-occupancy hybrid car vs. a bus, and the bus won). Sign up for the Lamorinda School Bus Program. If walking, biking, or busing aren’t in the cards, be sure to divide the ride and start a parent carpool.
2. Re-Use Items that You Already Have
Before you’re dazzled by a super-sized pack of highlighters (on sale!) or a fancy eraser set, take stock of the school supplies you already have. Sturdy items like binders, folders and backpacks can often be reused for several years. Use colorful “Duck Tape” to repair and add a bit of pizzazz to binders and folders. And chances are, you already have an ample supply of pens and pencils in your family’s catch-all drawer. Come to the store armed with a list so you won’t be tempted to buy things you don’t need.
3. Take Advantage of Local Stores with Green Supplies
Elmwood Stationers (located in the shopping center with Trader Joes – 3643-D Mt. Diablo Blvd.) has many eco-friendly back to school items including notebook paper, printer paper, etc. Their green products are all marked with a “Green Product” sticker and they have been certified as a green business. More info on their web site…
For more options check out this list of suppliers at Green Planet.
4. Find Green Paper, Notebooks, and Binders
Buy products with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content possible, that is processed chlorine free (PCF), such as New Leaf Paper for printers, and Mead Recycled Notebooks for use in school. Next, use these products to their maximum efficiency by printing on both sides of the paper, using paper already printed on one side for drafts (or better yet editing all drafts in the computer itself), and filling notebooks from cover to cover before purchasing a new one.
At www.ecopapers.com you can find all sorts of back to school products made of coffee and banana including lined paper, printer paper, notebooks and agendas. These are products from Costa Rica.
There are more and more binders available made from recycled materials. Fleurville’s Re-Run Beta Binder is made from plastic bottles. Rebinders, from the Sustainable Group. are made from sturdy corrugated cardboard with 35 to 38 percent post-consumer recycled material and are completely recyclable.
The days of package upon package of disposable pen and pencil are gone, replaced by biodegradable pencils, refillable pens, and recycled versions of both. Try to steer away from disposable choices since they will end up in the trash. Once you have greener options in hand, encourage your youngsters to hang on to each pencil ’til it wears down to the nub, and to each pen as long as possible. The Green Office and Green Earth Office Supply have just about everything you could want.
Some notable new products:
Greenline’s Zebra Eco Gel Pen, which is made from recycled CDs and cell phones
Smencil – naturally scented green pencils.
Pilot’s BeGreen pens – made from 65 percent recycled materials
ForestChoice’s au natural pencils – crafted from sustainably harvested cedar.
Recycled and Biodegradable pens produced by Industries for the Blind, an organization staffed by the visually impaired.
6. Look for Ways to Save Paper
Remind your kids that we have to cut down trees to make paper and that they should use both sides whenever possible. Also check to see if homework can be submitted electronically. It never hurts to ask your teacher if you can email in your work or post it to the school’s web site. This saves a lot of printer paper!
7. Pack a Waste Free Lunch
If you’re planning to send your son or daughter to school with a packed lunch, consider what’s going to end up in the trash. According to Mother Jones, the average child throws away 90 pounds of leftovers and packaging per year.
Don’t brown bag it; instead opt for a washable, reusable container to tote your lunch too and fro. Just make sure to avoid vinyl lunch boxes which have been shown to contain harmful levels of lead. Instead, invest in a PVC-free, thermally insulated lunch bag, one made from recycled juice boxes or from organic cotton and keep lunches cool by freezing water or juice in a reusable container and putting it in the bag. A couple good choices are Ecolunchboxes (available at Diablo Foods) and the The Laptop Lunch box system which includes individuals containers and beverage holders. Instead of using baggies and plastic wrap for sandwiches and snacks, use reusable plastic containers or an easy to clean Wrap-n-Mat.
When it comes to the actual food that goes in the lunch box the key is to reduce food waste and reduce disposable packaging. Avoid single-use snack items and processed foods. To reduce waste, buy staples in bulk, then pack sandwiches, side items, and drinks in reusable containers. Make extra for dinner the night before, leftovers make great lunches. Pack healthy green lunches kids will want to eat, and get them involved in choosing lunch ingredients, since they’ll be less likely to pitch stuff they want to eat. Forget the mini-packs of Cheetos and Doritos; apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruit are heathful, waste-free snackables that come with their own compostable wrapping. Or send them with fruit or vegetable sticks and a couple of slices of cheese. For more ideas visit wastefreelunches.org
8. Skip the Disposable Water Bottle
Most of the disposable plastic water bottles sent to school end up in the garbage and the landfill. The good news is that they are unnecessary since there is always drinking water available at school – drinking fountains with amazing tap water from the Sierras. If your student really wants to carry water, then just pick up a cool reusable water bottle from a vendor like Klean Kanteen or Sigg which come in kid-friendly sizes and designs. Kids are powerful examples to their peers. Encourage your student to stand up for what’s good for the planet.
9. Make Green Clothes & Shoes Choices
Almost half of the money spent on back to school shopping goes to buying clothes, but new threads don’t have to come with sticker shock. Reusing clothes is the greenest way to go and local thrift stores like “They Grow So Fast” (3413 Mt. Diablo Blvd.), Nifty Thrifty, and the Wayside Inn are a perfect place to find them. Nifty and Wayside both offer all clothing at 50% off on Tuesdays. And you can drop some stuff off while you’re there. Style-conscious teens can find gently used (but still ultra-hip) clothes at stores like Buffalo Exchange.
If these options are exhausted before your list is done, and you have to buy new, go for well-made, high-quality choices made from more sustainable fabrics like organic cotton or bamboo rather than disposable fashion that’ll wear out (and wear down the planet’s resources) before spring graduation. There are many eco-friendly clothes stores on the Internet such
patagonia.com – great for fleece pullovers, etc.
organicclothes.com – limited selection of kids stuff, but good company
Simple Shoes – earth friendly shoes
American Apparel – organic cotton t-shirts, tanks, and cardigans
H&M – 100% and 50% organic options
Kidbean – clothing for children aged 2 to 12
My Green Closet – organic clothes for younger children
Progressive Kid – a little bit of everything
It’s easy being green–remember, buy local when you can.
10. Try A Green Backpack
If one of your kids needs a new backpack, you might consider one made with recycled materials. Keen’s Hybrid Transport backpacks incorporate leftover aluminum and rubber materials from their shoe-manufacturing process, along with recycled polyester and foam from outside sources. Also check out the People Pak at Fleurville.com. There are many other new eco-friendly book bags as well…