Adopt a Green Agenda

Cost-saving, eco-friendly back-to-school ideas

Adopt a Green Agenda

Back-to-school shopping means new clothes and supplies. This year, try our cost-saving, eco-friendly ideas.

Every fall, parents spend time and money replacing outgrown clothing, too-small shoes, and overused school supplies. The financial cost of doing this annual restock is one thing, but there is also a cost to the environment.

The costs of going back to school

According to Statistics Canada, clothing and accessories in preparation for the 2012/2013 school year cost from $781.8 million to $784.4 million. A 2013 survey by Bank of Montreal also showed that the average Canadian family planned to spend between $85 and $190 per child on school supplies alone.

In addition to the financial costs of the back-to-school season, the environmental impact is staggering. As an example, according to the Recycling Council of Ontario, about 30 kg of waste from lunch packaging is produced per child per year.

Here are some tips for Canadian families that want to make a difference in what they spend on school supplies—and also lessen their impact on the environment.

Dressing for green success

The first step is to assess what your children need and what they actually wear. With kids growing so quickly in the early school years, capitalize on hand-me-downs and second-hand purchases. Older kids may wish to spend their own money on trendy items they want, but make sure to also invest in higher quality basics that will hopefully be passed on to younger siblings.

It also makes sense to wait a bit to add to the winter wardrobe. September is often warm enough for kids to wear summer clothes, so consider stocking up on fall clothes once they’ve gone on sale.

Litterless lunches start at home

When shopping for new lunch accessories, look for cloth or metal lunch containers, or—better yet—repurpose a container or bag you already have around the house. For the do-it-yourselfer, make a fabric lunch bag with a drawstring, and make matching snack pockets.

When choosing reusable containers, invest in food-grade stainless steel that can be used year after year. For older kids who need lunch on the go, send healthy smoothies in leak-proof glass jars or stainless steel bottles.

“One thing that is easy for parents to do to help green up their child’s school is to pack lunches in environmentally friendly packaging,” says Karyn Taylor of the Kortright Hills Public School parent council in Guelph, Ontario. “School councils can support this initiative by having fundraisers that sell reusable lunch containers. This both raises money for the school and contributes to the greening of the school community.”

Greening up school supplies

Reduce

When it comes to restocking notebooks, binders, pencils, erasers, paper, and art supplies, take inventory of items in your home still in good shape.

For pencil cases and backpacks, get creative and look around the home. Is there a drawstring bag or purse that could be repurposed to hold supplies? Could an old, cleaned food storage container or tissue box with the top cut off work to help keep desks and lockers organized? Shop at thrift stores for gym bags and make them unique by adding patches and swatches of fabric to cover wear spots or outdated logos.

Reuse and recycle

If it is necessary to buy some supplies, look for high post-consumer recycled content in paper and plastics, as well as reusable items such as pens that have refillable ink cartridges.

Choose nontoxic products

When buying new items, choose versions that are safe and nontoxic. Chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA) can be found in common products—such as soft, pliable pencil cases or scented markers.

Choose school supplies labeled “PVC-free,” “phthalate-free,” or “BPA-free” or look for items made with hemp, organic cotton, wood, or cardboard.

Be money smart

To keep the cost down, consider buying in bulk quantities and splitting among several families.

Eco-friendly school activities

To bring home the message that the environment is important, become involved in your kids’ school and have input on fundraising initiatives. Create relationships with organizations that sell eco-friendly products and support healthy meal programs that provide containers made from recycled materials.

Support greening-up initiatives within the school community, offering time and expertise, rather than money, for making projects successful.

With a little creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking, you can save both money and the environment while preparing for the upcoming school year. And with some good conversation around your motives for sending kids back to school the green way, they’ll learn one of the most important lessons even before the bell rings on the first day.

Where and when to shop for back-to-school clothes

With the average Canadian family spending $250 to $350 per child in back-to-school clothes (according to a 2013 survey by Bank of Montreal) there are ways to spend less.

  • Decide which items you’ll buy used and new. For instance, you may wish to buy everyday items new, but occasional things such as accessories, dress clothes, and jackets second-hand.
  • Shop at bigger thrift stores during first week of school when they often have good sales.
  • Check out smaller second-hand stores and consignment shops for lower prices on high quality clothing items.
  • Buy basics at the mall later in September when things are on sale.
  • Look at sales throughout the summer for wear-all-year items such as accessories, socks, and T-shirts.
  • Organize a clothing swap with family and friends who are also parents.

Green lunch ideas

Looking for healthy and tasty lunch options for the kids? Try these ideas.

  • Freshen up the veggies in kids’ lunches with organic lentil, green pea, and broccoli sprouts using the jar method, with sprouting seeds available at health food stores.
  • Make a green smoothie using 1 cup (250 mL) mango, 1 banana, 4 dates, a handful of organic greens, 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract, and 2 cups (500 mL) water to take to school in a glass jar.

Freeze homemade cookies or zucchini bread (sliced) on the weekend to send in lunches through the week.

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