It’s just a couple of weeks away… the much-anticipated return to school. Back to school usually equals a lot of shopping which may include brand new school supplies, clothing, and even computers. While it’s exciting, it’s also a very wasteful time of year. As you prepare for this new year keep the three Rs in mind. Reduce, reuse, and recycle can end up saving you some time, money, and best of all, it’s also beneficial for the planet.
Before you run off in a panic to the first retail store you see, take a few moments to prepare with what you already have at home. Gather all of the school supplies you have on hand and take an honest assessment of what can be used again for this school year. Pens, crayons, notebooks with lots of blank pages, rulers, pencil boxes, and more products are probably in fairly good condition after surviving the previous school year. Freshen up the appearance of these previously loved items by gently cleaning them, or decorating them with stickers.
After taking inventory of the school supplies you have at home you’ll be better informed as you decide what items you really need to buy for the new year. Sometimes such an assessment reveals that your child has simply outgrown the need for some supplies, like crayons. In this case, get a group of family members and friends involved in doing their own assessment. After they have identified usable school supplies you can gather for a swap. Young kids may inherit a pencil box an older child doesn’t need anymore, and older students may finally find that compass they needed for math class.
School supplies are only one side of the story. Part of getting ready for the new school years includes buying clothing. You can use the same techniques mentioned to get prepared. Start with an assessment of the clothing you already have. Ask yourself if your child still fits in the clothes and if the clothes are in good, wearable condition. Clothing that is too small for your child may be fine for a younger one. Consider hosting a swap, or simply donating good, clean, usable clothing to a local thrift store. Clothing that fit, but is perhaps missing a button, can be easily repaired. While clothes that are worn out, stained, and torn should be thrown away.
Ultimately, you’ll find that you do need to purchase something new. But, after doing an assessment you’ll have a list of things to buy that are actually necessary. When shopping, look for items that were made with recycled content. Take a moment to read the label to find products that were manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. For example, notebook paper and composition books that are made with 100% recycled content are readily available. Other products, like rulers made from recycled plastic, may not be so obvious.
Invest in more durable, higher quality items like backpacks made with thick fabric instead of the thin plastic or vinyl versions. While the cost may be higher up-front you’ll end up saving money in the end by not having to replace cheap products that can easily fall apart. I remember getting several years of use from my JanSport backpack with a leather bottom. A sturdy binder with a fabric cover may also last several years.
Another durable product to consider for back to school is the lunchbox. There are so many options available today that it’s hard to know where to begin. Focus on purchasing items that are reusable, like stainless steel utensils, instead of disposable items you would use only once, like a plastic spoon. Stainless steel lunch boxes or bento boxes are durable, plastic-free, and also recyclable. Lunch bags, however, are usually not recyclable, but you are sure to find one that is made from recycled materials like those by PlanetBox.
Along the same line as durable items, purchase school supplies that are refillable. For example, pens that accept ink refills, and mechanical pencils that use pencil lead refills. Using refillable items helps reduce the amount of waste you throw out during the year too. Currently, my favorite pen is the gel roller B2P by Pilot. The transparent outer casing is made from recycled water bottles! The ink refill is the same for the G2 gel pen which is actually easy to find wherever pens are sold. These small investments over time lead to less waste which equals a win for you and the planet.