Even though it happens every year, we still seem programmed to equate going back to school with buying loads of new things. And, while schooling requires supplies, we too often turn to disposable supplies to do the job such as pens, countless numbers of which are thrown away every year. Plus, going back to school offers a clean slate for a fresh start like “This year I promise myself to consistently pack my own lunch instead of buying from the tuck shop.” Or, “This year I’m going to get a brand new school bag”. Sound familiar? These resolutions require more resources in every respect. It’s not very green to buy unnecessary, duplicate equipment or extra items of school uniform if they are not really needed, nor does it help your bank account!
Preparation is of course important, but so is following your green preparation with green behaviour and extending your good green start to behaviour that lasts all year. For example, did you know that every 220,000 sheets of paper that is recycled saves approximately 17 trees? Vast amounts of paper are disposed of every year so purchasing post-consumer recycled paper, and making sure that it gets recycled again, can make a big difference. It’s a challenge to properly equip our children with supplies for another year of learning without virtually bankrupting ourselves and polluting our planet’s resources in the process!
So, how do you combine school’s three R’s; reading, writing and ‘rithmetic with the planet’s three R’s of reduce, reuse, and recycle? Here are some tips on how to get your child off to a good green start to the new school year:
Get off to a Good Green Start. Before hitting the shops in search of back to school gear, ask yourself some questions. Do you really need that new school bag if last year’s is still in reasonable enough condition and does the job? Do you really need a new ruler (the measurements haven’t changed over the summer!) or a complete set of new pens? Make a list of what you absolutely know you need, what you think you might need, and what you want, and carefully consider which items go in which section of the list. Once your list is made, it’s time to…
Take Inventory and Avoid Duplicates. Once you’ve got yourself in “green back to school mode” most of us will be faced with the reality that getting ready to go back to school requires new equipment; school supplies, clothes, backpacks, etc, but this is not always necessary. Take a careful inventory of what you already have that can be used again; think more durable items, like clothes and shoes and what you might already have lying around the house that is still waiting to be used for the first time such as extra packs of pencils, notebooks, etc. Avoid last-minute impulse purchases by making a list of what you need (and sticking to it!) before you head to the shops. Similar green practices can also be adopted with text books. Some schools have now adopted a policy of handing down text books to the forthcoming class. That makes perfect sense in every way. Why buy again when last year’s books are perfectly good to use again? Following these steps will save materials and your money.
Find Green Clothes. A lot of money spent on back to school shopping goes into buying clothes, but if you don’t already, why not consider using hand-me-downs instead? That is either from older siblings or from your children’s school sales/ charity fairs where good-quality used items of uniform are available for a fraction of their cost new. It’s good to recycle, it saves on resources and once again, it will save you money.
Choose Greener Pens and Pencils. It’s time to say goodbye to package upon package of disposable pens and pencils and replace these with recycled and/or biodegradable versions of each. Once you have greener options in hand, encourage your youngsters to hang on to each pencil and pen as long as possible and use last year’s school supplies where possible. There are many companies specialising in green writing implements, some greener than others but some of these may be harder to get hold of in Cyprus. However, we found a good recycled pen by Pilot called B 2 P (Bottle to Pen) pens which as the name implies were originally plastic bottles. We also found coloured pencils by Staedtler which are made out of wood from sustainable sources and there is also a greener version that are made from a wood-free alternative. If you are after “regular lead pencils”, then there are BIC’s ecolutions which are 57% recycled and once again, are wood-free. All these items are reasonably priced and we found these specific items in Alphamega hypermarket.
Don’t be a Paper Pusher. Although many kids are internet masters, e-mailing homework has yet to happen in most schools where paper is still king for taking notes, writing papers, and of course, doing homework. But that doesn’t mean that you or your child can’t take steps to cut down your paper consumption. Buy products with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content possible, that is processed chlorine free (PCF) for use in school. Next, use these products to their maximum efficiency by printing on both sides of the paper, using paper already printed on one side for drafts (or better yet editing all drafts in the computer itself), and filling notebooks from cover to cover before purchasing a new one. And it never hurts to ask teachers if you can email in your work although this is more likely to apply to older students. Finally, if you need to buy binders to hold all those papers, buy cardboard binders instead of plastic.
Beware the Miscellaneous Supply Overload. Bigger items, like backpacks and items that don’t get used every day, like glue sticks, coloured pencils, and markers, are still necessary in many cases, but, because they either last longer or usually don’t get used every day, for example, art supplies, you don’t need them in the larger quantities typical of printer paper, pencils, and pens. Don’t be tempted by the better deal on six bottles of glue if you know you’ll only need three bottles between now and next spring. If it doesn’t have to come out of the backpack every day, think twice about loading up at the beginning of the year.
Think Outside the Lunch-Box. Don’t use bags; instead opt for a washable, reusable container to take your lunch to and from school. Just make sure to avoid vinyl lunch boxes which have been shown to contain harmful levels of lead. Instead, invest in a PVC-free or stainless steel lunch box. Instead of using bags and plastic film wrap for sandwiches and snacks, use reusable plastic containers and unbleached parchment paper for wrapping up your snacks. For drinks, beware of plastic bottles which may contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical. Instead go with stainless steel ones such as the ones by Rainbow Products (see our Green Directory) which come in kid-friendly sizes and designs.
Don’t Start a Food Fight. When it comes to the actual food that goes in the lunch box, pack healthy green lunches kids will want to eat, and get them involved in choosing lunch ingredients, since they’ll be less likely to throw away things they want to eat. Forget packs of crisps and sugar-laden cereal bars. Apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruit are healthy, waste-free snacks that come with their own compostable wrapping. Send them in with fruit or vegetable sticks and a couple of slices of cheese and buy organic whenever possible. See our earlier blog “What’s up with our kids diets” for healthy lunchbox ideas.
Walking, Biking, Busing: Green Transportation to School. Going green while getting back and forth to school offers a familiar refrain: human power, walking or biking is best; riding the bus is next; driving alone is last. If you don’t live close enough to walk, finding a safe bicycle route to school is a green way to go, too. Beyond that, even though most school buses get single-digit km to the litre, they can also hold a large number of youngsters, making them a cleaner option than single-occupancy cars. If walking, biking, or busing aren’t in the cards, and admittedly in Cyprus many roads are unsafe especially for biking, and it can get too hot in the summer months, think about dividing the ride and start a parent carpool.
Do all This ALL Year. Making your back to school experience greener is a great way to start the year, and a great way to make progress toward a sustainable lifestyle, but there’s no reason to stop after the year has just started. Apply the lessons you’ve learned preparing to go back to school to other parts of your life outside school, and, when it comes time to re-supply, follow the tips to stay prepared, organised and green.
Most of us as parents probably do in fact make fairly reasonable decisions when we send our children back to school but a check-list on ‘adopting green practices” is a good way to remind us of the best, most economical, sensible and greenest way to start the new school year.
Even small changes you and your children make towards a greener ‘back to school’ approach, this will contribute positively to the bigger picture by saving on resources, helping the environment, improving your children’s health and ultimately saving you money. And don’t forget, these days, being green is cool! Why not tell your kids to share green ideas with their friends? (online via Facebook of course – it’s greener!).