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Six savvy ways to go green this back to school season

Without a supplies list from the school, it's tricky to know what to stock up on.
Without a supplies list from the school, it's tricky to know what to stock up on.
Photo by- Jennifer Markell

As prices rise and wages drop, parents and teachers struggle to find ways to maintain the necessary status quo when it comes to back to school supplies. Grabbing clothes and backpacks, Kleenex and antibacterial soap, shoppers could be found three deep at the shelves of local retailers these last few days, with the tax-free weekend in full force.

Oftentimes, we think of cheap, inexpensive ways to save, first and foremost, without giving much thought to what we are buying. Why not use back to school as an opportunity to teach our children about ways to stay green and sustainable, even in a cost conscious world?

Using these six savvy tips, you can be both frugal and green when you ready your brood for back to school.

  1. Create an inventory of what school supplies you have before you go shopping. If you are anything like me, you always have some supplies left over year after year. Before spending more on what you don’t need, make lists of what you have and what you actually do need. Look for coupons in the mail, newspaper and online during the weeks and days leading up to school, as many retailers will offer outrageous money savings deals. Make the extra effort and shop for supplies that are made from recycled material.
  1. Purchase PVC free, BPA free reusable containers for snacks, sides and sandwiches. Some containers come with built in freeze packs that are both convenient for lunches and prevent cold packs from being lost or thrown away. Get out of the habit of using plastic bags that oftentimes end up in landfills or in the bellies of whales, after just one use. A reusable container, made well, will keep food fresh day after day and will last you for years to come.
  1. Did someone say lunch? Commit to packing kids healthy lunches this year that aim for nutritional value, not fancy packaging. Know the dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists for produce, to ensure you’re not buying products that pump pesticides and synthetic fertilizers into your tyke. You are keeping your kids healthy and reducing environmental waste when you don’t buy and eat processed foods. Instead, make a little more dinner and save the leftovers for the next day. Buy bulk nuts, seeds and organic dried fruit and divvy them out into prepackage serving sizes. These snacks are a quick go-to, and take the place of your highly processed, nutritionally depleted single serving, snacks.
  1. If you live a mile or less from school, walk or ride bikes with your child at least a couple days a week and you will simultaneously get in your morning workout. How many of us drive our kids to school and then spend an hour at the gym sometime later in the day? If you simply live too far to ride or walk, consider a starting a car pool with a neighborhood family. You may have to be the one to ask, but chances are they are hoping for a way to save time and money too. Carpooling will cut down on the amount of vehicles on the road which reduces carbon emissions and cuts fuel usage and costs.
  1. Think outside of the mall this school year and consider spending your hard earned dollars at consignment shops and vintage clothing stores. When the tipping point of the recession hit almost five years ago, families, thanks in part to teenage girls, became smart shoppers by turning to resale stores like Plato’s Closet and Second Time Around for clothes, shoes, and accessories. These stores have many brand names items at drastically reduced prices for new or like-new apparel. You can also find a wide variety of uniform appropriate attire as well. Don’t spend a fortune and get lured into high-end retailers…remember, by winter, chances are your kids will need another “new” wardrobe.
  1. Turn ideas into action. Clearly you are a well informed and conscious parent, aunt, grandpa, (you get the idea) or you would not have read this article. Why not take your knowledge and voice one step further and bring the awareness to your child’s school. Start a recycling campaign if there’s not one in place. Consider petitioning for a garden club where kids can create an onsite vegetable garden and then start a garden-to-table day where the cafeteria can use the harvested food to create a meal for everyone. Urge the PTA and staff to turn towards an electronic communication process, reducing paper supplies and ultimately costs. Promote school fundraisers that support green, sustainable products only, versus the token cookie dough fundraiser or popular candles fundraiser, where the products are more harmful than good.

There are countless small and large ways to make a difference this year. Teach our future, our kids, how to be more aware and conscious of what they buy, use and throw away even at school. If we as the adult society continue to take a blind eye to what is happening globally, environmentally, then we are not only leaving a sick planet to our youth, but, we aren’t even teaching them how to make it better. No age is too young or too old to make a difference and even the smallest adjustments to our lives can have a butterfly effect.

What green, sustainable change will you and your family implement this school year?