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August 2021: Teach Your Kids the 3 R’s As They Go Back To School

Date: August 27, 2021

It’s back-to-school time, and that typically means time for more classroom supplies, wardrobe upgrades and lunch paraphernalia. This can be a hard time on sustainability with the popularity of expensive and environmentally “unfriendly” disposable pens and pencils, flimsy cardboard and PVC binders, and disposable lunch and snack packs, not to mention the idling minivans in the school pick up and drop off lines.

But it doesn’t have to be! There are simple, practical adjustments students and parents can make that will make this school year more sustainable by reducing, reusing and recycling right, both in and out of the classroom.

Tips to earn an A+ in sustainability this school year include:

3 R’s and 2 S’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle School Supplies

Before you head to the store, take stock of your child’s school supplies from the previous year; chances are, you will find supplies your kids could use for the upcoming school year. Reusing school supplies can also provide a little end-of-summer fun: trade last year’s gently-used school supplies, as well as school clothes, with school friends  -- and even to give the old supplies an upgrade!

Often times, last year’s school supplies are in perfectly good condition, but kids just want something that looks new. Instead of buying new back packs, binders and pencil cases, help your children upcycle their old school supplies by decorating them. Decorate binders and folders that are looking a little worn out with a collage of photos, magazine clippings and stickers. What about those leftover yellow pencils that are in perfectly good condition? Make them new again by wrapping tape around sections of the pencil and painting the sections in between the pieces of tape with nail polish. If in the end, you do need to shop for some of your supplies, try to find some that are made out of recycled materials.

For clothes, check out thrift or consignment stores, either locally or online. Often times, you can find designer brands for cheap prices. And as you make room in the closet for all the latest back to school fashions, consider donating your unused items to a local charity.

B.Y.O.L : Bring Your Own Lunch

If you prefer to send your children to school with packed lunches, there are so many things you can incorporate to make sure you’re not adding to the waste stream unnecessarily. Reduce trash created by disposable bags, sandwich bags and foil by packing lunches in washable, reusable lunchboxes, bags and containers. In addition, always remember to pack a reusable water bottle; many have caps that can clip to backpacks and lunch bags. Whole fruits and vegetables as snacks are not only a healthy option, but also better for the environment than pre-packaged snacks. Instead of packing disposable plastic cutlery, throw in a set of reusable, washable silverware, and include a cloth napkin.

Walk, Bike, Carpool or Bus to School

Did you know that if you leave your car at home just two days a week you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by approximately two tons per year? Before school starts, consider sending your kids to and from school on the school bus or even start a carpool. By carpooling, you will reduce the number of times per week you use your car, which will save money on gas, and reduce wear and tear on your car. And when it’s your turn to wait in the car line at the school, turn the car off while you’re waiting to reduce the air pollution emitted from your vehicle – right where the young students are breathing.

Encourage Your Kids to be Eco-Advocates

These good practices don’t stop with back-to-school preparation. Your kids can focus on being environmentally conscious in the classroom, as well. Ask them to talk to their teachers about doing more work electronically, with less printing of assignments on paper. In addition, talk to your kids about joining or even starting an environmental club at school. Taking part in environmental clubs is a great way to make lasting changes in school and in your community, such as setting up recycling receptacles in classrooms, placing compost bins in the cafeteria, connecting the school with local farms that can take food scraps, and donating leftover school and office supplies at the end of the school year. Look into buyback and recycling programs or donate the old electronics to a not-for-profit organization.

By factoring in your environmental impact when making back-to-school plans, you can save money, reduce waste and teach your children eco-friendly habits. With a little bit of extra creativity, you can make “old” supplies “new” again, without even making a trip to the store.


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