Back to school green tips

Have you seen your kid’s back to school shopping list yet? I just got the finalized first-grade list a few days ago. The list is so specific and is not environmentally friendly focused. It is frustrating to me that since most everything has to be shared, we don’t have the option about making choices for our kids that we might feel more comfortable with. So even if I choose to send the Seventh Generation wipes, like I did last year, my son may just as likely be using some other brand with chemicals I am uncomfortable with. If your kids go to public school like mine, I am sure you face a similar dilemma every year.

There are always choices I can make that will have some positive effect. I will have to choose to put more time and effort into making sure I am making the best decisions when I have the choice. (And then maybe working to make bigger changes where I don’t have choice. Yet.)

photo credit: limonada's photostream on flickr

Transportation. Children walk, bike, or ride the bus in far less numbers than in decades past. This year my 6 year old will be able to either walk, ride the school bus, or a combination of both. This is really exciting for both of us. When the weather is nice my husband has planned to walk our son to school in the morning, which will be so great for the two of them. I can walk and pick him up after school with the two little ones and spend some time at the adjoining park before heading home. Obviously using our own two feet is the most eco-friendly and healthy option of all, but when the weather isn’t so nice the bus will be a great option too!

Did you know…

  • only 10% of children regularly walk or bike to school? In 1969, 50% walked or biked to school.
  • of those children living within 1 mile of school, only 25% walk or bike? In 1969, 87% of children living within 1 mile of the school walked or biked.
  • more than 33% of children are considered overweight or obese?
  • about 25% of morning traffic is parents taking their children to school?
  • children exposed to traffic pollution are more likely to have asthma?
  • there has been a 74% increase in asthma over the last 25 years?
  • that less than 50% of children ride the school bus?
  • a child is 13 times safer in a school bus than in a car?
  • the total U. S. savings in fuel cost per year by students riding school buses is $6,097,028,413?

Packed, healthy school lunch

Lunch. This is one area where I can make a daily difference. The first choice is to pack a lunch every day. From the lunchbox to the food that goes in it, there are lots of choices here to make lunches eco-friendly. Waste free lunches are the ideal. Reusable lunch boxes:

Crocodile Creek lunchbox, $15.50.

and lunch bags:

Lunch Bag Ladybugs

Mimi the Sardine organic cotton lunchbag, $23.95

sandwich wraps:


Snack Taxi Reusable Sandwich Bag, $6.99

bento boxes,


Lunchbots Uno Stainless Steel Container, $14.95

cloth napkins,


Litter Free Lunch Organic Cloth Napkins, $7.99 (set of 2)

and stainless steel water bottles:


CamelBak 12oz Stainless Steel Kids Bottle, $17.95

all help reduce waste. Put that healthy, organic food in and make it fun!

Did you know…

  • children that bring a paper bag lunch daily generates 67 pounds of waste by the end of the school year?
  • a waste-free lunch can save $246.60 per school year per person?
  • the nutrition analysis for one vegetarian entree served at my son’s school has 320 calories, 16 grams of fat, 33 grams of carbs, and 320 mg of sodium?
  • even the military believes school lunches are a root cause of the obesity epidemic?

Dante Beatrix Eco Backpack, $49.99

Gear. From backpacks to the art supplies, pencils, crayons, and paper used at home, this is another area that you can make a difference. Have you looked at last year’s backpack? Is it usable? There is no reason to buy new gear just because it’s a new school year, or they have grown out of the style. For new purchases make sure it is something that will last.

Did you know…

  • conventional art supplies can contain chemicals and substances such as lead, dioxins, silica, and arsenic?
  • pencils are often made from wood from non-regulated (often non-sustainable) forests?
  • that every ton of paper that is recycled saves 17 trees?
  • that every ton of paper that is recycled saves 7,000 gallons of water?
  • many kids’ backpacks are made with PVC?
Barley & Birch

Barley & Birch new fall wovens

Clothing. I am making a concerted effort to buy either organic or used clothing for the kids this year. I had great luck at a local resale shop for the summer and am hopeful for back to school clothes too, even though it seems like the bigger sizes are much more limited. Clothing swaps with friends and consignment sales are also ways to get good quality clothing at low prices. It especially makes it easier to justify some of the pricier organic options.

Did you know…

  • organic cotton represents 0.76% of global cotton production?
  • conventional cotton uses 25% of the world’s insecticides?
  • five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. are known cancer-causing chemicals and are classified by the EPA as Class I and II (the most dangerous)?
  • one of the most hazardous insecticide, Aldicarb, has now been banned by the EPA? However, the phase out period will be 5 years, and this comes 25 years after it caused the worst known outbreak of pesticide poisoning in U.S. history. It has been found in the groundwater of 16 states.
  • that America throws away two quadrillion pounds of used clothing each year?
  • that buying used saves hundreds of gallons of water, hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide, and oil?

So those are some of my eco-friendly tips for going back to school. What are yours?

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Back to school green tips — 4 Comments

  1. This is my first year of public school, as my firstborn enters kindergarten. Luckily, her supply list didn't contain items like wipes or hand sanitizer. It did have ziploc bags, which is sort of annoying, but the rest of the items were things like paper, crayons and scissors, which I am mostly cool with. I had the option of just writing a cheque and having the school purchase supplies, which I did, but I am thinking that next year I may try searching out slightly more sustainable choices than regular old Crayola.

    Since this is my first foray into school, I don't have a ton of ideas for how to green it. I will be using re-usable bags and containers for my daughter's lunch, and we'll be walking to school and back. And I try to shop second-hand for clothes as much as possible. Beyond that, I'm considering this a learning opportunity, and hoping that I can build on what I discover.

  2. Great information and tips. There's so much that parents can do to make a difference but it's easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of non-green choices out of our control.

    This year I hope to start making small steps to green our school – starting with cleaning solutions and waste (recycling, garbage, composting, etc). Reducing our impact on the Earth and getting chemicals away from our children is important to us and I hope to others.

    Fingers crossed.

  3. @Amber- You definitely learn as you go. This will only be our second year in public school and I am still figuring out where I can make changes, when I should make changes, and when I have to think longer-term about bigger change. I think where you are starting is where a lot of people might take years to get to!

    @Gina- Good luck! If anyone can do it, you can. If we hadn't had to switch schools, I was ready to take on more school-wide issues. Now I have to start over with a new set of teachers and parents. Maybe next year?

  4. Pingback: Tuesday Top Two: two surprising sources of BPA |

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