Going back to school can be both exciting and overwhelming for students and parents with younger children. There’s the rush to get school supplies for the school year, which often leads to buying a wide range of new items just in time for the gates to open. Furthermore, many retailers will try and tempt you with popular back-to-school sales.
The way you prepare and shop contributes to your environmental impact. As a result, thinking about how and acting to consciously consume will help you get the kids back to school eco-friendly, kitted out, and all-prepared.
In this article, we’ve given you a rundown of how to prioritize sustainability while heading back to school. There’s also the added benefit of some tips that’ll help you save money.
Before diving into sustainable alternatives to supplies, let’s consider the three Rs. These serve as strategies to guide you toward curbing waste this upcoming year.
Reducing entails shopping differently and cutting back on certain purchases. Sometimes, the back-to-school sales also affect one’s judgment of what’s necessary. This often leads to an accumulation of items that have a great environmental impact. These include single-use plastic products, unsustainable clothing, and unnecessary supplies.
You need to begin to consider how you purchase items to be environmentally responsible. Rather than buying products just because they’re on sale, consider school supplies that will last a long time. This reduces the need to regularly renew items. Zero waste stores will often have a variety of school lines, such as lunchboxes and stationery, that'll last longer to replace less eco-friendly items as they come to their end of life.
Reusing old supplies, that are in great shape, is a necessary part of an eco-friendly school year. School prep often comes with one shopping list after the other. However, why not take inventory of items you already have?
Instead of buying new items again for the entire school year, make use of those that are already available. This helps to reduce the amount of waste that comes with purchasing new products. Waste includes plastic packaging that often comes with products and an accumulation of items destined for landfills.
There might be the desire to buy new eco-friendly materials, but reusing old ones also makes all the difference. Before donating or choosing to recycle, consider what you can give a second life. Whether that’s old lunch bags, pencil cases, or backpacks, reusing helps the environment.
Recycling is often a last resort. However, various recycling programs now exist, making this process easier. If there are supplies from the previous school year that you no longer need, you can donate or recycle them. It’s important to understand your city’s recycling guidelines to avoid recycling what won't make the cut. Apart from recycling, you can also upcycle items. This is a creative way for new ideas to flow. It allows you to reuse and create new items out of the old ones.
By applying the principles of reuse, reduce and recycle, you’ll be curbing waste and helping the environment. For instance, if there’s a plastic item like a water bottle that you already own, reusing it instead of tossing it out makes a difference.
Read more: Importance of 4Rs - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Here’s our rundown of some green and earth-friendly tips for a successful new school year. These green tips will support an eco-friendly school resumption. From eco-friendly school supplies to green transport modes, we’re examining the way kids and older students can start back sustainably.
Backpacks are part of the ultimate school essentials. They’re important for not only kids but also students of various ages. Backpacks are extremely functional, and they come in handy for various reasons. Students use them to store books, water bottles, stationery, and other important materials.
Due to their importance, you need to consider the type of backpack you purchase for school. There are various environmental implications of the manufacturing process. This includes resource depletion, water usage, chemical treatments or dyeing, and waste management. Many backpacks also contain materials like nylon, which is not environmentally friendly. Also, the shipping of these items across the world contributes to carbon emissions.
Backpacks may be the last thing that comes to your mind when shopping sustainably, but they matter. Many producers make these with polyester. This fabric is a major contributor to pollution and is not safe for the environment. Over the years, brands have been creating green backpacks as a contribution to sustainable practices.
Many of these are made with recycled materials, like recycled plastic bottles, rather than virgin materials. There are also organic cotton and hemp backpacks in the market. These are sustainable products that fulfill the functional purpose of backpacks with a lesser environmental toll.
Even better, we've recently researched the best eco-friendly backpack choices to make it easy to choose. Click on over for a selection of school and day-to-day wear.
Lunch packs are one of the most important school supplies. An easy way to cut down waste is simply packing a lunch to school. If you have younger kids or you’re an older student, pack lunch from home. This has a significant effect on reducing your environmental footprint. When people buy takeaway food, these food items often come in unnecessary packaging. This can either be paper or plastic wraps that you’ll eventually throw away.
When packing eco-friendly lunch boxes, pay attention to low-waste practices. So, instead of disposable cutlery, choose reusable utensils that are stain-resistant. Also, instead of packing food and snacks in paper or plastic bags, use reusable lunch boxes.
This SoYoung linen lunch box is a great addition to your child’s school supplies. It is functional, BPA-free, and machine washable.
Metal lunch boxes like this Clean Lunch’N number also make great plastic-free alternatives that will last pretty much forever.
Food choices can also help you significantly reduce food waste. Heavy animal-based meals contribute to greenhouse gas emissions due to the activity of commercial livestock rearing. This industry is a significant contributor to phosphorus and nitrogen pollution1. When you introduce plant-based meals to your lunch packs, it also helps to curb food waste. The planet as well and you and your child’s health will enjoy these benefits.
Apart from school supplies like stationery and backpacks, buying new clothes for the school year is another area of concern. The first sustainable tip to creating a green wardrobe for school is reusing items you own. However, kids tend to outgrow their clothes quickly. This then raises the question of how to shop sustainably for them.
Opting for clothing from fast fashion brands leads to contributing to waste and also unethical practices. If you’re not looking to spend a lot on sustainable brands, buying second-hand from thrift stores is a great option.
The thrift market is continuously growing. In 2019 alone, the resale market was valued at $7 billion. This shows how much people are buying into the market. Apart from the fashionable aesthetic many young people attach to it, it’s also a sustainable alternative to buying new fast-fashion pieces.
When you buy second-hand clothing, you give a new life to pieces that would otherwise end up in landfills. Also, if you’re looking to stay green while saving costs, second-hand is the way to go. There’s an abundance of second stores in various neighborhoods and even online stores.
When disposing of clothing you no longer need, consider donating, reselling, or swapping. You can organize a clothing swap with family or friends. It’s a great way to find new pieces within your circle in an eco-friendly way. Clothing swaps are also a great way to trade school uniforms kids have grown out of but remain perfectly good for another child ready to start an earlier year.
The way you commute to school says a lot about whether you embrace sustainable living or not. Whether you’re a college student or a parent with young kids, begin to consider your mode of transportation. When every household takes their cars out every day for school runs, this contributes to air pollution.
According to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills about seven million people yearly. This can also put kids and adults at risk of life-threatening ailments such as pneumonia, heart disease, and cancer. Also, if you or your child is asthmatic, polluted air can aggravate the condition. Instead of hopping in the car every morning and afternoon, why not consider green alternatives?
If people reduce the number of cars on the road, this will help curb the pollution problem. Consider signing your kids up for school buses. Most schools have vast school bus routes. Another option is to opt for carpooling or sharing.
If you have neighbors or friends that go through the same route, you can join them. Also, if you live close to the school, why not use the opportunity to take daily walks? All of these will help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Choosing sustainable materials such as eco-friendly pencils and pens, and eco-friendly notebooks is one of the important school tips. Most kids love new stationery like colored pencils and crayons.
However, many of these contain toxic chemicals that are not only harmful to the planet but also to human health. When buying writing materials, choose those that have minimal packaging and safe ingredients.
Related: Are crayola crayons and markers vegan?
Many times, people view wooden pencils as inherently sustainable. However, the process of acquiring the wood and converting it can be resource and energy-intensive. Lead also has a significant effect on the environment. This is why it’s important to choose sustainable pencils.
Rather than buying toxic plastic pens, opt for those made from recycled materials. Some brands use materials like recycled water bottles, cardboard, and other post-consumer waste. When choosing paper and notebooks, look for paper that’s FSC certified. Other things to look for include recycled paper and tree-free alternatives.
Related: Can you recycle notebooks?
Sunscreen is a necessity for both kids and adults. If you or your kids are constantly exposed to sunlight, it’s important to use sunscreen. School time will often involve outdoor periods as well. As a result, sunscreen is needed.
Unfortunately, many sunscreen products contain chemicals that are harmful to not just the environment but human skin as well. When people wash these away, the byproducts can be harmful to aquatic life as well.
When you choose non-toxic and environmentally friendly sunscreen brands, it helps your skin and the environment.
Hand sanitizers have become an important part of our day-to-day lives. They help us stay germ-free while maintaining hand hygiene. Many mass-produced sanitizers come in single-use plastic bottles containing harmful synthetic ingredients.
Instead, go for eco hand sanitizers made by companies championing sustainable methods and zero waste. When buying sanitizers, pay attention to the brands that have refill options, use sustainable containers, and contain only the necessary ingredients.
Little changes go a long way in supporting a sustainable lifestyle. Whether you’re a college student preparing for school or a parent with school-age kids, you can benefit from these eco-friendly back-to-school tips. Small changes like choosing reusable bags or going with public transportation make a big difference.
Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report (Review). (2012, March). Ecological livestock. [PDF]. Greenpeace
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.