Starting School the Green Way

A spiral graph-ruled notebook is on a colorfully striped cloth. An apple is next to the notebook, and colored pencils and a crayon stub are on the notebook. "Back to school" is written on the notebook page. The letters S C H O O L are drawn to look like a bunch of multicolored post-it notes, a pallette of watercolors, a wooden ruler, a happy face with the Os as eyes, and a pencil. there is a shining sun drawn in the top right corner of the page.
Image by Pixabay

It’s that time again… I have one kid in high school, one kid in community college, and one kid homeschooling. I spend most days panicking and checking repeatedly to see who I have to pick up when, and will continue until we’re a couple weeks into our routine. Back-to-school time always ramps my anxiety up to eleven. In addition to chauffeuring my kids everywhere and scheduling homeschool time, there’s the back-to-school shopping. We have to spend so much money and buy so much STUFF. It’s so stressful, and it can be tempting to focus on saving as much time and money as possible and just not worry about being earth-friendly. But the things we buy and do for our kids as they gear up for the new year have an impact on the environment that we can’t ignore. We can’t eliminate this impact, but there are definitely ways we can lessen it.

an assortment of used clothing on various hangers hangs from a length of clothesline
image by Pixabay

Buy used

When shopping for school clothes, make secondhand shops your first stop. Once Upon A Child and Plato’s Closet are two nationwide chains selling clothes on consignment for children and older teens, respectively. I’m sure you can find other kids’ consignment shops and thrift shops near you, and there is eBay and Thredup online. NextDoor, Facebook neighborhood groups, and the Facebook marketplace are also useful places to check.

Since you’re going to the secondhand shops, why not donate or consign your kids’ outgrown clothes and old backpacks, if they’re in good condition?

It might also be possible to buy musical instruments, sports equipment, and art supplies used. Not only is this better for the environment, but it can save you some money.

For lunch, use reusables

Does your child take a packed lunch to school? If so, invest in a bento box or some reusable containers. We use Sistema boxes, but there are lots of different kinds to choose from. Use them instead of ziplocks or plastic wrap for sandwiches, and instead of single-serving packages for snacks and desserts. A reusable bottle of water or juice is much greener than a juicebox. Just avoid glass; most schools have rules forbidding glass bottles because of safety concerns. Thermoses are great for soups and hot meals. If your child will need a fork or spoon, make sure to pack a reusable one (as long as you can trust them to bring it home! We’ve had our share of accidentally thrown-out utensils.). The same goes for a cloth napkin.

Several children's bikes of different sizes and colors, mostly blue, stand in a metal bike rack outside a brick building. There are fall leaves on the ground.
Image by Pixabay

Green transportation

If possible, have your child take the school bus, walk, bike, or carpool. I know that for many people, driving your child to school is the only option. But please avoid idling your car in the drop-off/pick-up lines as much as possible.

A composition book lies open to a blank page. A yellow pencil with a sharp point and what looks like tooth marks leans against the edge of the notebook. A small metal pencil sharpener and some pencil shavings lie on the open page.
Image by Pixabay

School supplies

Sometimes we don’t have much choice in what classroom supplies we buy. Our children’s teachers often want them to have specific notebooks, pencil cases, pencils, markers, etc., especially in the lower grades. But when we do have choices, we can choose the greener options. Binders, pencil cases, and folders made from paper, cardboard, and cloth are better than those made from plastic. Some items might be wrapped in cellophane while others come in cardboard boxes.

By taking a little extra time to think our purchases through, we can make back-to-school choices that are better for the environment, and often better for our wallet as well. I hope you have fun starting the new school year!