August 25, 2011

Back to School in Eco-Style.

Photo: Steven Depolo

A convenient way to be a conscious consumer this fall.

The end of summer is around the corner and school is, once again, upon us. Early morning wake-ups, packing lunches, and after school activities will all soon become routine, but first… back-to-school shopping. In the US, families spend an average of up to $800 on these school supplies. That is a lot of money and a lot of products, yet it need not produce excessive waste. This is the perfect time to incorporate eco into your daily life and become a conscious consumer. It is super simple for parents, teachers, kids, and all the rest of us that love school and office supply shopping (and sales) to start turning green this back-to-school season!

First thing is first: let’s talk classroom essentials like pencils, pens, paper. When purchasing eco-friendly back-to-school basics, it is critical to look for items made from recycled content. Many pencils and pens are refillable and made using post-consumer waste, as are some rulers and scissors. This reduces resource consumption and the need to manufacture, using our limited natural resources.


Photo: creatocrat

If buying new, choosing FSC-certified pencils ensures that wood is sustainably harvested. A far better choice! Practically Green has some great tips on this subject; be sure to take a look if you are looking to learn more. I am a huge fan of New Leaf notebooks and paper, ReBinder’s many products, the entire ecojot collection, PaperMate ReThink and EarthWrite, the Zebra Pen Eco line, ForestChoice pencils, Pilot BeGreen, BIC Ecolutions, Kleanearth Scissors, and 3M eco-friendly tape and recycled Post-Its, to name but a few of the many eco-brands on the market today.

But what do you put all of these materials in? An eco backpack or tote bag, of course. My top picks are made from either recycled fabrics or organic cotton. They are not only stylish, but also durable, spacious, and multi-purposed, like this red recycled Baggu pack, any number of these environmentally friendly, artisan-made, and fair labor FEED bags, or solar-powered energy-producing Voltaic backpack.

Packing lunches is mighty important, but can also be mighty wasteful. In regards to packaging, I say: aim for zero waste! With Project Lunch, a project of Teens Turning Green, we outline a few guidelines for how to reduce waste with sustainable practices. Did you know? The average school-age child using disposable lunch products generates an estimated 67 pounds of waste per school year; this
equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for each and every average-size school. We have compiled a few suggestions on how to get started, based on resources from Laptop Lunches.

Photo: April

  • Pack a cloth napkin instead of a paper napkin.
  • Pack stainless-steel utensils instead of using disposable plastics.
  • Pack a reusable drink container instead of disposable juice boxes, juice pouches, cans, and plastic bottles.
  • Pack lunch items in reusable containers. Avoid using plastic wraps, plastic bags, wax-paper bags, and aluminum foil.
  • Avoid purchasing pre-packaged items. Buy foods in larger containers and leave them at home for recycling.
  • Pack lunches in a lunch box or backpack instead of relying on paper or plastic bags.

There’s one more thing that I cannot forget to address: snacks. Snacks sustain me throughout long days (and far too many academic classes)! Overly processed non-organic snacks, however, are often filled with refined grains, white sugars, artificial dyes, trans fat, and high amounts of sodium. Unfortunately, this means nothing more than unhealthy empty calories. Allow me to suggest a few delicious, quality alternatives that are perfect to munch on during recess, between classes, after a practice or rehearsal or even on a mid-homework break. Fresh fruit is at the top of my list (no packaging is a plus)! Followed closely by Nature’s Path bars and Annie’s snacks like fruits bites and various crunchy bunny mixes.

Photo: MTB Vegan

While busy getting ready for the coming school year, I think it is very important to keep in mind those who may not be as fortunate. The inability to purchase even basic school materials prohibits children all around the world from attending school. This is why I have started The Schoolbag, an initiative to provide educational materials to students in Haiti and beyond, ensuring that young people can continue to pursue their studies. Many office supply retailers also have drives to collect school supplies, which will then be donated to local schools.

Think consciously this back-to-school season and give these simple, practical green actions a try­–and more will follow!

Let me know your favorite eco-school supplies and feel free to ask questions. I’m eager to hear feedback on Twitter at @erinschrode.


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