6 Paths to a Greener Back-to-School Season

Photo: Casey West

Adding an eco-friendly focus to the back-to-school season can be a great way to teach kids about sustainability, and parents don't have to part with a bunch of green in order to be green. The key is finding simple, cost-effective ways to introduce environmentally conscious approaches and items. Here are a few options to consider. (See also: 10 Ways to Go Green and Save Money at the Same Time)

1. Scrounge for Leftovers

Just because a binder or folder got used last year doesn't mean it's out of commission. Check your household inventory and make use of what's left. You may be surprised to find some unopened packs of pens, pencils, or paper. Also, put those excess rulers, calculators, and pharmaceutical pens to good use. After taking stock of what you already have, you'll be able to make a list of anything you still need.

2. Check the Closet

Go through the closet with your kids and make two piles: what fits and what doesn't fit. If you know other parents, try to organize a clothing swap. Otherwise, donate the stuff that doesn't fit. Don't feel obligated to buy brand new clothing, either. Thrift stores and garage sales always have a bundle of gently used, fashionable clothes. This goes for students of all ages.

3. Buy Recycled

It's become easier to purchase recycled school supplies, backpacks, and clothing, even from big box stores. Recycled and chlorine-free paper notebooks are a favorite. You can also purchase pencils made from recycled wood, which ensures new trees aren't felled. Natural fiber backpacks have become more popular. Some retailers, like REI, have rolled out entire clothing and supply lines with an environmental bent. It won't be long before corn-plastic scissors are all the rage.

4. Buy Reusable

Paper products clog landfills nationwide, comprising about 40% of all waste. Getting a sturdy, insulated reusable lunch box or lunch bag can help curb the problem and eliminate the need for paper bags every week. Consider going a step further and giving your child a set of cheap silverware and a cloth napkin. You can also pick up a BPA-free water bottle and cut down on the need for water bottles, non-recycled milk cartons, and trips to the school water fountain.

5. Opt for E-Books

It isn't always possible, but opt for an electronic version of a book when you can. Some textbook publishers are beginning to beef up their e-books, although college students are still at the mercy of their professors.

6. Transportation

Walking or biking to school, so long as it's a safe option, can have a significant impact on sustainability. But taking the school bus is certainly preferred over a solo trip to drop off a child at school.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I really like the leftovers tip. I went through some old notebooks I had saved recently, and I was surprised to discover that they were all only about half-full -- I totally could have used them for another year! Also, as it turns out, my creative writing from freshman year of college was maybe *not* worth keeping...

Does anybody have any other green back-to-school suggestions?

Guest's picture

Love this! Most of the tips are doable and super eco-friendly. Biking or walking to school is not an option for us, but we do try to leave the car home whenever possible.

Guest's picture

It would be so great if younger students could use e-books instead of regular textbooks. I always hated not being able to write in the issued books at school. You should see my college texts! There's tons of writing and highlighting in all of them. E-books let the students make notes in the margins and highlight important passages.