10 Ways to Green Your School Year

A new school year always brings a myriad of mixed emotions for everyone involved. Parents can’t wait to send their kids back to school, kids are excited but also a little nervous and teachers are in the zone ready for their students to come barreling through the door. But before the first day parade of new things, there’s the back to school shopping extravaganza. That’s why I have compiled a list of 10 ways to have a greener school year.

Backpack makes a comeback. I was always jealous of the kids that showed up with a brand new backpack every year. Looking back now, it’s sad to think how many backpacks went to waste, year after year, and I am pretty pleased that my mom made me reuse my old one until I couldn’t anymore. 

Choosing a good quality backpack will not only reduce waste, but should save you money in the long run. High quality items are made to last and can withstand the rugged wear and tear of a second grader and the spills of your teenager. If your child’s backpack is just too out of style for them, consider donating it instead of throwing it straight into the garbage.

Be ready to mask up. Fabrics masks are a much more sustainable option than the disposable kind. Because the masks are made of fabric, they can be washed and reused multiple times, meaning less waste overall. Not only are they reusable, but most mask makers have pretty sweet fabric patterns that your child can choose from. From popular superheroes and princesses, to animal faces – you can surely find one that your kid will like.

Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize. Kids, or more broadly speaking, humans are great receptacles for all kinds of germs. Washing your hands is an important part of the spread and fight against germs, however, soap and water are not always conveniently located so an alternative must be used. 

Mini-bottles are the perfect size for backpacks, lunch kits, purses and pretty much anywhere else. Rocky Mountain Soap Co has a one litre refill bottle that has a 60% alcohol content, which is the recommended content for maximum germ killing, AND it smells way better because of the essential oils in it. Not only does it have more natural ingredients, but they also have a returnables program where you can return your used one litre bottles to the store where they will be shipped back to their facilities, sanitized and then reused, giving consumers that choice to buy a reused bottle.

Break the rules. The school supply list is a well known part of any school year. Always being very specific of the number and colour of items needed to help your child through the school year. While it may say you need to have the items on the list, I’m telling you to be a rebel and break the rules. Some of the supplies you probably have laying around from last year’s supply. At the end of the school year, take inventory to see what is still usable for the next school year and then compare when the new list is passed around to see what you already have. 

Encourage your kids to take care of their things so that they can be used the next year.  Sometimes things do fall apart, however, for things like markers and crayons, use what you have before you go out and buy a brand new pack. Your kid may be missing a few colours from their set, but it always encourages them to share and reach out to make friends.

Snack attack. Convenience is something everyone enjoys, no matter what age. Elementary school kids want a snack that they can eat as fast as possible so they can get out of the classroom and onto the playground. While pre-packaged snacks like applesauce cups, granola bars and chips may seem like a win for all, oftentimes the environment loses. The plastic waste that is generated by snacks goes straight to the landfill further contributing to our waste footprint.

There are quite a number of solutions to this problem. Use glass, when possible, as it can be reused for a long time and looks good. Reusable snack bags that are either fabric or more durable plastic are also a great option for sandwiches, homemade granola bars and most other dry snacks. Bento boxes are another neat container that contain individual compartments or containers that can be stacked together in a convenient storage box for transport. Instead of using a brown paper bag or plastic shopping bag for a lunch kit, buy one that can be washed and reused to reduce the amount of waste produced in your household. Winners, Home Sense and Bed Bath and Beyond have great options to help create a zero waste lunch time or shop online at Fenigo , a Canadian online website for a litterless life.

If you’re really keen on lowering waste at your child’s school, try talking to the administration to see if they would be interested in TerraCycle’s zero waste recycling box program.

Taste the seasons. Eating seasonally and locally helps reduce the waste associated with the long transports required to bring produce here. The short transport from farm to your table produces less vehicle emissions and oftentimes the produce is packaged in recyclable containers or are not packaged at all. Getting to know the people that grow your food is an added benefit as it creates a more holistic view of the food you are eating.

Type it out. For your older kids it may be worth investing in a good quality laptop. Moving up through the school system, the expectation of having typed assignments increases, with most college and university courses requiring papers and assignments to be typed. Keeping notes and assignments on a laptop reduces the amount of paper used during the school year.

If typing notes is just not their thing, try buying a notebook or paper that has the certified FSC Recycled label. This way you know that you are getting the most responsibly recycled paper, instead of a greenwashed claim. Or try a Decomposition notebook, which uses 100% post-consumer waste paper in their products and can be found in many stores. Once you’re finished with the book, try to pass it on, or recycle it according to your local recycling rules.

The new school year can be a positive experience for everyone, even the environment. Making small switches and reusing what you already have is a great start in creating a greener school year.

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