Lesson 1. Buy less, but buy the best. First, make a list of necessary items, and stick to it. Really, how many pens does one child really need? For the items on your list, opt for products that have some percentage of recycled materials. Paper, pencils, binders, and nearly every possible school supply comes in post-consumer recycled materials at stores where you already shop (such as Target and Walmart). While some of these items may be a tad more expensive, if you buy fewer of them (i.e. only what you need), you can make more of an impact.
Lesson 2. Send ’em packing. Brown-bagging it is a no-no. A reusable lunchbox is far greener, and it can show a little personality, too. Look for PVC-free options (Lands’ End sells adorable options to match their backpacks, but you can also find them at convenient big-box retailers such as Target and Walmart). Inside the carryall, individually package foods in reusable containers instead of throw-away baggies. Also be sure to pack healthy lunches and snacks for your kids, such as yummy fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Lesson 3. Travel lightly. Reduce your family’s carbon footprint with your to-and-from school routine. If it’s an option, encourage biking or walking, which also gives kids exercise. Or start a carpool. Some neighborhoods even organize walking trains, the by-foot version of carpools, where parents take turns leading a group of walkers. The plus? You’ll be sharing your parental workload, too.
Lesson 4. Stock the classroom. Working with ever-tightening budgets, teachers often ask parents to contribute to classroom supplies. Send your child with greener products, such as recycled paper and natural non-chemical cleaning supplies (also available at convenient retailers). If you help with a classroom party, bring reusable or compostable plates and silverware (available at Whole Foods and elsewhere) and serve healthy foods.
Lesson 5. Teach recycling. Every year, each school in the U.S. throws out an average 38 tons of paper. Teach kids to use less paper, to write on both sides of paper, and to recycle paper. At home, remember that printer cartridges are recyclable. You can return them to most stores where they are sold.
Need a wrap-up of today’s class? Here’s your back-to-school list:
• a little common sense and self-restraint (don’t buy more than you need!)
• supplies made from recycled materials (paper, pencils, pens, etc.)
• reusable PVC-free lunchbox for healthy lunches
• a low-carbon, low-stress transportation plan
• natural cleaners for a chemical-free classroom
• a well-informed kid to spread the word about being green.
Congrats, you’re on your way to passing Green 101! You deserve an A+.
Written by Kelly M. Smith