This post contains affiliate links. Please read our disclosure here.The back-to-school time of year is exciting, busy, overwhelming, and expensive when you have kids! And when you’re trying to reduce your family’s carbon footprint, it can feel pretty wasteful, too. This year I made a conscious effort to do what I could to reduce our waste related to back-to-school shopping, and I feel like we were pretty successful! It required a bit of forethought and planning on my part, but it was not hard to make greener choices for back-to-school.
My kids are on a traditional schedule, meaning their schools are in session from August through May, and they have June and July off. So every summer in July, we get “the letter” in the mail, revealing their teacher for the upcoming year. This always triggers a flurry of texts and phone calls between parents on behalf of their children to establish which friends have been placed together for the year…very exciting for the kids!
The letter also contains the list of required school supplies the students will need. When we get the letter, it is “go time!” The key is not to wait until right before school starts to do everything, or you will likely end up rushed and purchasing things that you already have at home. Follow these simple steps so that you can reduce your waste and unnecessary spending for a greener school year.
1. Take an inventory of your kids’ backpacks and lunchboxes.
There really is not a good reason to automatically replace items that are only lightly worn and still function as needed. A good quality backpack can usually last at least 2-3 years at our house before it literally starts falling apart. When we are past the first year of use, I’ve had good success with tossing the backpack in the washing machine on cold and gentle cycle and then hanging to dry. Good as new!
The same is true for a lunchbox: a high-quality one should be good for a couple years of use at least. Do not try to wash a lunch box in a washing machine, though…you’ll need to keep the inner layers dry and mold-free. Instead, try mixing up a spray bottle of white vinegar and water, and use that to give the inside of the lunchbox a really good cleaning. You can spot-clean the outside with a bit of laundry detergent and water if it’s needed.
2. Shop at home before heading to the store for school supplies.
See what supplies you might have purchased extra of the prior year and use those before buying more. Often, when I find those great back-to-school deals, I buy a few extra of those things that I know my kids might need more of during the school year. For us, these are usually items like notebook paper or notecards. Often, I am grateful mid-year when one of the kids runs out of something and I have some in my stash. But other times, we don’t end up using what I bought. Back-to-school time is the perfect time to make sure you are using your previous purchases first before buying more.
3. Choose more eco-friendly, non-plastic products when possible.
Choose recyclable or biodegradable products over plastic or disposable. Decisions like choosing paper folders over plastic, a cloth pencil pouch over a plastic one, and wood colored pencils over plastic markers can go a long way toward reducing the overall plastic waste your kids produce throughout the year.
If you have to buy plastic markers, consider looking into Crayola’s marker recycling program, Colorcycle. They will accept any type of plastic marker for recycling, including Sharpies, highlighters, and dry erase markers.
4. Go green when buying new lunch and snack containers.
There are many affordable reusable and eco-friendly options available for food containers! My current favorite containers for lunch and snacks are from ECOlunchbox. They are super lightweight and come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on what your preference is. If you already have a little collection of reusable, non-plastic lunch containers already, you probably won’t even need to buy more since they hold up so well. An added bonus of not buying plastic for your children’s lunchboxes is that stainless steel and glass are healthier, less toxic options as well as being good for the environment.
If your child likes to heat food up at school for lunch, you obviously can’t use stainless steel. Metal+microwave=no good. And plastic can leach toxic chemicals into your food when heated. Instead, you need to get a thermos! We use our thermoses all the time in school lunches for my three who are in school. They love taking leftovers instead of sandwiches to switch things up. You can read more about how to successfully use a thermos in a school lunch in this post.
A reusable water bottle is a must, especially in the desert southwest where we live. It is still well over 100 degrees each day at the beginning of the school year! I like to have a smaller 10-12 oz bottle like this Klean Kanteen one for inside their lunchbox, and a larger, insulated one like this Hydroflask for keeping in their classroom for throughout the day.
5. Cut down on your driving trips to the school.
Find out where the school bus stops are and consider having your child ride the bus. If you live close enough, riding bikes or walking with your child might be an option. Or on the other end of the spectrum, if it’s quite a haul to get to school, try to find someone, or better yet, a few families to carpool with. Any of these simple changes will help reduce your family’s carbon footprint throughout the school year.
There are many ways to make greener choices for back-to-school time and throughout the school year! Let me know if you have other ways that your family reduces your impact for the school year. I’d love to hear from you!