After the 4th of July, stores and shops shift from marketing the lazy days of summer to bombarding parents and children with aisles of back-to-school supplies. The lists of school requested supplies grow longer each year in many cash strapped school districts. For parents overwhelmed by the health and safety risks posed by commercial school supplies–and, limited by already stressed budgets–purchasing green alternatives to the common school supplies seems impossible. When money is tight, creating a 100% green school supply stash is tough. There are a few reasonable ways to head back to school on a budget and protect the environment.
Understand the school supply list. Will your child’s supplies be labeled and used individually or tossed into “community” bins? Does your child need the four boxes of crayons requested–or can additional supplies be sent in as needed? Are noted brand names required or suggested? Understanding the teacher’s reasoning for the types and amounts of supplies requested helps parents plan ahead and determine the benefit and value of green product options.
Reuse old school supplies. Many parents save money on school supplies and help the environment by simply reusing as many supplies from previous years as possible. There is little need to replace rulers, scissors, ear buds or even quality binders and folders. Re-sharpen colored pencils, sharpen and save old pencils and crayons for homework–or use for one more year at school.
Recycle or resell old school supplies and gear. Whether you take old school supplies, like backpacks and lunchboxes to a local resale shop or hold a yard sale–either option is a terrific way to help the environment and save, or earn, money. Many communities or school districts also hold supply or clothing swaps and tag sales as summer ends. Consider forming or joining a local, green-friendly, parenting group dedicated to sharing or swapping environmentally friendly products for children.
Research green products thoroughly. Green and pink are both high dollar, marketing terms that companies often use rather loosely. Never simply assume that a “green” labeled product is a safer, healthier alternative to a traditional product. Research the proven risks and benefits of both the traditional product and its green replacement. Consumers sometimes discover little benefit–or even greater risk–in a costlier, green labeled product.
Choose your green school supply priorities. Many environmentally friendly products cost significantly more than traditional products. A box of 24 wax crayons, for example, costs less than fifty cents during several weeks of the year in many stores while a box of soy crayons costs roughly four times that price during the same times. Carefully select green priorities. Perhaps buying environmentally friendly lunch gear is more reasonable than purchasing certain green supplies that become “community property” in a classroom dominated by nongreen supplies.
Go paperless when possible. Going paperless becomes easier as students grow and teachers accept digital copies of assignments, presentations, and computer based projects. Instead of purchasing supplemental books or reading list novels in paperback, buy e-books or borrow books from the local library. Encourage students to use technology when possible; sign up for school and classroom newsletters online, and avoid waste by recycling and reusing paper supplies.