Green tips for going back to school!

by Christina Dawn Morgan

September 5, 2014

Yeah, I know Some of us dont need no education But, like it or not folks, Back to School is definitely here! In fact, many schools are alreadyin session. So, its possible that youre already even over back to school. It's never too late to use these tips for making your school year- and your kids'- as earth friendly as possible. The start of school at any point in life can be very exciting. But, it can also be very expensive! School supply lists abound, and nabbing all that your child might need or want for the school year can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. (Lame!) But, whats even more lame is that many school supplies can also come at great expense to the planet & your childrens health. The good news? Ourpurchasing power is yet another opportunity for us to invest in the best possible health for our children and the Earth. Heres a chalk board (or digital board?) full of ways to honor the planet while you shop for back-to-school:

School Supplies for a Happier Planet

Back in my day they came by paper. Maybe now theyre texted or shared by Google Docs with parents several months in-advance. Regardless, a school supply list has either hit your view already or is coming up fast. So, how to get your green on?

Take a look at what you have left over from last year

New things are often an unnecessary luxury or a perceived need pushed upon us by the advertisements of profit-hungry businesses. See whats already in your house that list may grow shorter than you think! Repairs, repurposing, and upgrades will usually come at a lesser cost to you and the Earth.

For Technology:

Technological tools are an increasingly dominant portion of kids mandatory school needs. As vital as they are to our kids education in the form of calculators, laptops, tablets, and who knows what else, we want to purchase them with mindfulness of their potential health risks to youth and the planet. Technological tools can be made with some of the most caustic toxins in the world, with devastating consequences for human and planetary health from manufacturing to disposal so its important to be aware of whats in their devices and that we buy them only when its really necessary (see tip (1) above). Gotta buy? Greenpeaces Guide to Greener Electronics provides a ranking system for the worlds largest electronics companies in terms of their efforts to combat climate change, eliminate hazardous substances from their products, recycle responsibly, and use sustainable materials in their products and packaging. You can read a detailed report card for each company to empower your technological shopping decisions.

For everything else:

For everything else on your childs school shopping list from art supplies and paper products like notebooks and folders, to pencil cases, pens, and back packs the primary mantra is avoid toxics. All things considered, here are some of the best sites that Ive seen for finding green school supplies: Green Apple Supply Green School Supplies Planet Green Recycles Eco-Friendly School Supplies The Green ABCs

Healthy School Lunches

No conversation about back to school would be complete without discussing whats going to be on the lunch table for our hungrystudents. Many schools around the nation are serving foods or food products that are sub-par in quality and nutrition, not to mention minimal in their considerations of the future of your child and the planet. Its a work in progress, and the changes are ours to make. Packing your childs lunch can offer you a plethora of ways to ensure theyre eating nourishing foods when theyre away. There are plenty of fun ways to make your kids food experiences at school nourishing and fun (that link shares several), and here are four big tips for child and planet friendly packing:

Great news! Costco just announced it's selling sustainable and super affordable canned tuna caught without using FADs!

  • Use reuseable and earth-friendly materials to pack your childrens lunches: This tip can also save you a lot of money. Look for BPA, PVC, and lead-free lunch containers in a variety of sizes that can replace the need for plastic bags each day. Switch-out disposable juice boxes or water bottles for toxin-free thermoses or camelbacks and your child will be eating in green style. Even lunch boxes and reusable ice packs can be made out of recycled or sustainable materials.


When I was in school, I think that my family spent the most money on our back to school clothes. My mom often worked two jobs one of them at a clothing retail store, just to have their discount specifically to help us afford that time of the year. Eek! The back to school clothing trend was and, as I observe, still is all about getting new stuff, all about name brands. But, we have a number of options to balance perceived and actual needs on the green. Heres some tips for back to school clothes shopping:
  • If youre buying new, then buy clothes from name brands committed to Detox! Whats that? Well, too many of the biggest clothing brands have dangerous toxins incorporated into their manufacturing processes and, ultimately, final products: clothing items that you and your children wear. These toxins impact the environment and human health in horrible ways. You, like we, might even call them little monsters. Heres a full report about the monsters living in clothing and what Greenpeace is working to do about them through our international Detox Campaign. There (and here), you can see whether your favorite name brands are stepping-up to the plate to Detox their clothing lines. Shop to support the Detoxers and avoid those falling-behind, then, feel free to Take Action to support global Clothing Detox!
  • Buy second-hand: A way to offset all of the environmental impacts caused by producing new clothes is to simply buy second-hand whenever possible. Thrift stores are easy to find almost anywhere, and offer the best prices for often only very lightly used clothing items. This option gives you high quality and quantities of clothing for pennies on the dollar of buying in new stuff stores. And never underestimate good old fashioned hand-me-downs. ;)
  • Buy greener fabrics: This tip is usually relevant when you are buying new clothing items. Whenever possible, opt for planet-friendly fabrics like organic cotton or hemp, repurposed or recycled materials. Here s a heap of eco-fabric ideas.
  • Repurpose all you can, and when you cant: recycle! When it comes to last years wardrobe thats damaged or too small this school year, check out these tips for how to repurpose them! Finally, heres how to recycle clothes that just cant be salvaged.
When it comes to back to school shopping, to save money and planetary resources, its all about buying with purpose. School supplies and clothes are meant to be tools that enable our learning. Their newness and branding are not meant to define us, although the companies pushing them will always prefer you to think otherwise. ;) Profits over People and Planet is too often the mantra. So, empower yourself and your progeny! Save money, your familys health, and the planet by finding the school tools that are right for you and leave you feeling great about your legacy on Earth. All my best wishes for a Happy Back to School, folks!

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