Green Tips: "Green" Back-to-School Tips
The school year is just around the corner, and that means preparing for the first day. Are you ready? Not me; not yet anyway.
If you’re an eco-conscious parent or guardian, back-to-school is the perfect time for adopting some greener habits you and your whole family can practice all year long. In doing so, you’ll not only be making a measurable difference, but you will be setting a great example for your children.
The following are some tips which can help you make your back-to-school preparations as green as possible:
1. Don't Overbuy - This seems to be a no-brainer, but it's exciting to enter the back-to-school section of your local retailer—so many shiny things and bright colors! But don’t be tempted to buy more than you need. Instead, first check what you already have in stock. Did your child really use all 500 sheets of loose leaf paper you bought last year? Is every single pencil worn down to the nub? Did the scissors spontaneously break? Only buy what you really need for the year and the amount of “stuff” you don’t bring home will be astonishing.
But let's fact it, it's unavoidable - you will have to buy some things for the upcoming school year...which leads to Tip #2.
2. Purchase Eco-Friendly School Supplies - You may be surprised to realize just how many "green" options exist when it comes to school supplies. Two of the more important items on your child's school supply list are likely to be paper and pencil. In that regard, look for pens or pencils made from recycled content (like Recycled 2-in-1 Paper Pens) or from sustainable materials (like Bamboo Mechanical Pencils). Or, save money and waste and resharpen last year's pencils.
In addition, since every page counts, make sure that you are buying notebooks made from 100% post-consumer materials. Your greenest (and easiest) bet is paper made of 100% post-consumer recycled content. When this isn’t possible, look for a green certification for your paper, such as that by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Green Seal. Regardless of which paper fiber option you choose, look for paper that is chlorine-free to reduce harmful chemicals from being used to whiten the paper. You’ll want paper that’s labeled “processed chlorine-free” or PCF to be sure. Or another interesting option is "paper" that isn't even made of paper fiber, such as Buffalo Natur's Stone Paper Notebooks. These notebooks are actually comprised of sheets made of stone that have been recycled from debris in construction sites!
You’ll get bonus points if you choose a backpack that’s constructed using greener materials. Great options include organic cotton, jute, or fabric made of recycled plastic. Fabrics colored with eco-friendly dyes are also superior. Some conventional dyes and pigments contain heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and chromium as well as lead and mercury, making them not-so-healthy for your child or the planet. Plant-based pigments and dyes or color-grown cotton are much more preferable.
Finally, buy online to avoid driving. You not only save on gas, but you save the planet by producting fewer carbon emissions.
3. Create Healthy, Zero-Waste Lunches - Sixty-six pounds of waste. That’s how much disposable lunch waste the average student produces every single year! Packing your child’s lunch bag full of disposable containers and plastic bags, single-serving pre-packaged snacks like crackers and yogurts, disposable juice boxes and soda cans, plastic forks and spoons, and paper napkins is not only a sure-fire way to trash the planet, it’s also an extremely expensive habit.
So save yourself the money and reduce your child's food-related waste by ditching the brown paper lunch bags in favor of a durable reusable lunch box. That reusable lunch box (made with eco-friendly material, of course) can be filled with washable containers made of stainless steel or BPA-free and PVC-free plastic. If you find containers cumbersome, you can still keep it green by packing sandwiches and snacks in reusable cloth bags, like those made by Eco Ditty. And don't forget the reusable water bottle instead of other mass-produced bottled products. Filtered tap water is just as good, and certainly more healthy, than over-sweetened juice boxes - and at less than a penny per gallon - its a great bargain.
It has been estimated that a daily serving of disposables will cost you around $725 every year. By contrast, making the investment in reusables could save you at least $245 in the first year (and more for years after). Stocking your house with multiple reusable lunch box tools will help take the extra work out of this method of lunch preparation. Just by eliminating all that daily wasted plastic and paper, you child could save 67 pounds of garbage a year.
4. Choose Used instead of New - Every school years seems to demand a new wardrobe (at least according to the advertisements), but this doesn't mean you have to sprint to the mall. Why not go vintage instead? Buying used clothing from thrift and vintage-clothing stores, not only decreases the use of resources to make clothing, but it puts a dent in the problem of sweatshops and other unfair trade practices. Moreover, it gives good-quality, one-of-a-kind fashions a second life.
And it doesn't have to stop there. You may want to consider a refurbished computer over a new one. They often cost less, and some come with a warranty when purchased from the manufacturer. Used textbooks are often available for half off or more in school or campus bookstores, and websites such as Amazon carry a broad selection of used titles. Some schools are even experimenting with online textbooks, reducing both your costs and the strain on your backpack.
5. Electronics - Computers, graphing calculators, printers—it seems like a lot of school supplies nowadays plug in or run on batteries. Even if your child has mastered turning the lights out when they leave a room, there are two more ways to conserve energy even when their gadgets are off: (1) purchase rechargeable batteries instead of new, and (2) invest in a "smart" power strip and avoid "phantom power". Electronic gadgets like cell phone chargers, digital cameras, computer monitors, e-readers, and printers suck extra energy from the grid into your home, even when they are switched off or not in use just by being plugged in. Though this may seem trivial, it can add up over time. A smart power strip will automatically stop the flow of energy from electronic devices when they are not in use, without having to remember to switch the strip on or off every time. Smart power strip are a bit pricier than a typcial power strip, but it can reduce your annual power bill by up to 2% - which makes it completely worth it.
If you're in the market for electronic devices, look for the Energy Star label to ensure they consume the least amount of energy, especially when idle. To reduce toxicity of your electronics, try to find electronics that have one of two green certifications, such as: EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) and/or RoHS (Restrictions on Hazardous Substances). You might also consider getting your child a small solar charger for his or her electronics so that he or she can power them renewably while on the go!
If a computer is on the school supplies list, definitely consider a laptop over a desktop as these consume up to 50% less energy. Likewise with monitors; an old CRT monitor will consume 75% more energy than a new LCD screen.
If you’re in the market for a new printer or scanner for your child, try to find one that does automatic double-sided printing. If that’s not possible, at least look for one that has an easy step-by-step system for doing double-sided printing manually.
Finally, don’t forget to donate or recycle all electronic waste that is no longer usable by your child. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that the world tosses 50 million metric tons of electronics every single year, much of which is laced with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Where possible, don't throw used electronics in the trash can. There are many charities today that accept used cell phones, computers, and e-readers for further use or as parts for selling to raise funds.
Along with your own great ideas, these tactics can help get the ball rolling. Have a happy, healthy and fabulous new school year!
-- Eco Home Store
Note: For "green" tips for College Students, check out thislist created by Goucher College.