Reduce back to school waste

Back to School Zero waste parenting

Whether your children go to school, daycare, kindergarten, or are homeschooled, we’re sure that they will need certain items to tackle the new academic year ahead!

If teachers at your child’s school usually give out a list at the beginning of term, wait to get that before you go hunting for supplies, chances are there will be some changes from the previous year as Covid-19 regulations may mean kids can’t share items they were allowed to in the past. Waiting for a specific list will avoid overbuying, or purchasing thing that won’t end up being used.

Shop at home and make an inventory

We all have drawers that are filled with discarded pens, pencils, crayons, markers, rulers, binders and who knows what else. Take the time to search the house for anything that was left over from last year, or that was gifted, or that you may have bought to much of the previous year.

Back to school supplies

Make a selection of everything you’ve found by clearing out pens that no longer work, sharpening pencils, and ripping out used paper in your notebook and using the rest. Make an inventory of everything you already have and that is still perfect to be used, and keep it on hand for when the list comes, or for when you may need certain items later in the year.

The start of a new school year doesn’t necessarily mean that everything you buy must be new. Backpacks, pencil boxes, and things such as scissors can be reused, and if your child is desperate from something newer and trendier, or if, for example, their backpack has some wear and tear, consider repairing it, or ‘sprucing it up’ by adding patches. Same goes with old binders that might be a bit damaged: use nontoxic tape to hold them back together, and to make sure they’re strong enough for the year ahead.

Consider your options and choose quality

Once you have a list of what you’re missing consider your options. Take a look around second-hand shops, or ask friends and neighbors who have older children for things you may need, that they may have and no longer be using.

If your child absolutely needs a new backpack, because it's their first year, or because the old one is completely ruined, and can't find one second-hand, of course buy it new, but consider it a long-term investment. 

For example, if your child is obsessed with a certain character or movie that you know they will outgrow by next year, spend money on a quality plain backpack that can be embellished with iron-on or sew-on patches of their favorite characters. This means that when their taste changes you can avoid getting rid of a whole backpack, but can possibly get away with just switching out a few patches. 

Also, look into brands that have a lifetime repair guarantee or that are made with recycled materials, yes they will cost a bit more initially, but a sturdy, quality bag will last for years to come and will save you money down the line.

Back to school supplies

Same goes with lunchboxes. Use the one you already have, and if it’s too grimy or if they’ve been using paper bags up until now, invest in more durable materials such as metal. Do the same with water bottles (find out what the problem with bottled plastic water is).

As far as zero waste lunchboxes go, remember to swap single-use napkins with cloth ones, and to pack reusable utensils.

The main thing when shopping for something new is to look into sustainable brands (the closer to home the better) and avoid plastic as much as possible. For example, instead of binders with plastic covers choose ones with cardboard (better if recycled) covers, go with refillable pens that use cartridges instead of one-time-use disposables, swap yellow plastic highlighters for pencil highlighters, buy sharpeners made of metal instead of plastic, choose supplies sold in cardboard boxes, etc etc.

Make your children aware

Talk to your children about how important it is to re-use items and to not create unnecessary waste. Teach them to value what they have and to take care of it so that it lasts longer. 

If there is some packaging in their lunchbox that needs to be recycled let them know, so that they can dispose of it correctly. If their school doesn’t recycle speak to the teacher or to the principal to ask whether it would be possible to make recycling more accessible, if not, tell your child to bring the packaging back home with him/her, where you will dispose of it correctly.

How to get them to school

Transportation is another factor to consider when trying to cut down on waste and on your back to school carbon footprint. If you live close by the school and it is safe, encourage your children to walk or bike to class. If not, consider forming a carpool with other families when it comes to picking up and dropping off kids at school for class or for after-school activities.

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