Back to school in green style

If you’ve turned on the TV, opened the newspaper, or been out shopping lately, you can’t avoid the fact that it’s almost time to go back to school (even if you want to). While I’m a little sad about the end of summer drawing near, I’m also excited for the kids to get back in a routine again and looking forward to an end to my daily juggling act of being a full-time mom and full-time business owner.

back to school
Photo via zinwazi

Back to school usually means a lot of shopping. This year, get school started off right by making a back to school supply list that is better for your kids and good for the planet. Here’s how to do it:


  • Reuse – The first, easiest, and more cost-effective thing to do is to reuse school supplies from last year. Dig through your kids’ desk drawers to find the pens, papers and pencils that you already have that can be used again. I realize this is not as much fun for your kids, but it saves money for you and reduces waste.

  • Look for reusable products – When you do buy new, look for reusable products, such as a refillable highlighters like these AusPen markers or recycled binders by Rebinder, which have replaceable covers.

  • Buy used – Instead of buying new books, try looking in a local used bookstore for textbooks. You can also check out for information about donating or purchasing used books.

  • Buy recycled –Most traditional school supplies consume vast amounts of virgin materials, particularly paper. Look for school supplies made from recycled material, particularly those containing a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content!  Check out these New Leaf recycled paper products, Smencils made from recycled newspaper, or the Ellie Pooh products made from elephant dung. That’s right, paper made from elephant poop.

  • Purchase supplies online – Studies show that shopping online is more eco-friendly than driving to the store to purchase items. It’s also much more convenient. Last year, I purchased all our school supplies online. I didn’t drive anywhere, nothing was out of stock, and everything arrived at my door within days. I will never drive around town looking for backpacks and binders again.

  • Ditch dangerous toxins – Many children’s school supplies, such as lunchboxes, backpacks and binders, are often made out of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a toxic plastic that is dangerous to our health and the environment. PVC (commonly referred to as vinyl), is dangerous throughout its entire life cycle (when manufactured, in use and when it’s thrown away). Unfortunately, you can’t always tell what products contain PVC. To avoid it, check out the Center for Health Environment and Justice’s (CHEJ) Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies , which lists the most common back-to-school supplies made out of toxic PVC and suggests safer PVC-free products in over 20 product categories.

  • Say no to hand sanitizer – Research shows conventional antibacterial gels may do more harm than good. A better solution – just wash your hands with warm water and eco-friendly soap (free from petroleum solvents, dyes, and artificial fragrances). If you must use hand sanitizer, look for all-natural, plant-based hand sanitizers, which are alcohol free and still kill 99% of germs.

  • Pack a better lunch – The average school-age child eating a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste during the year for just one average-size elementary school! If you switch to using reusable containers and reusable water bottles rather than traditional baggies and pre-packaged food, you will save about $250 per school year per child, and feed your kids healthier food too – prepackaged food is generally high in calories, sodium and fat; and most drink pouches are filled with high-fructose corn syrup. Remember to look for lunch boxes that are lead-free, BPA-free and PVC-free like these bento boxes from Laptop lunch.

In the midst of the school shopping, remember to enjoy the last of the lazy days of summer with your family. The kids will be a grade older and back in school before you know it.

Learn more about Allison at  @ocgreenmama

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