Article by Suzanne Bertani, one of our Top 30 Vancouver Mom Bloggers for 2012 and owner of Green Planet Parties, full of tips for a greener back to school.
Release your inner eco warrior as you prepare for back to school. We need to protect children from toxins and we know that plastic, chemicals, and antibacterial agents are not a good idea – so why include them in your child’s backpack, supplies, or lunch system? Avoid buzz word marketing when doing your back to school shopping: Microban, Antimicrobial, non-stick. Steer clear of excess plastic packaging and scented products. Replace plastic with wood, cotton, and stainless steel. But how do you do it?
Greening Back to School on a Budget
For parents on a strict budget, reuse items from previous years before heading to the stores. Pencil crayons, pencils, sharpeners, wooden rulers, pencil bags and even duotangs can all be reused. My best tip for reusing is sending kids back to school with crayons from the gigantic pile we all own – only your child needs to be comfortable with the color spectrum. My best up-cycle tip is to save the shoe boxes from back-to-school shopping and make your own box for supplies to be stored; flatter boxes are better so they’ll fit into desks and this further reduces a new plastic item to shop for.
What about items that you have that are still good, but aren’t eco-friendly? I always say reuse, reuse, reuse. If it’s been made from a material not friendly for the earth, you can’t dispose of it by recycling anyway! Get the best use out of these items and remember it’s not about being new and shiny heading back to school. One way to ensure an item will be serviceable for many years is to stick to plain, classic designs. Dora, Spongebob, or cutesie animal designs might seem like a great idea for kindergarten, but children outgrow these quickly.
Greener Backpacks and Clothing
Selecting quality items when purchasing new clothing and shoes is a good idea that will ensure you get a lot of use out of them. And keep your back to school shopping local. Nothing is more green than deciding to support local businesses. Also don’t forget a trip to a second hand clothing store is a great way to stay on budget and stay green.
Backpacks are a wonderful item to green with so many backpacks still produced from PVC. This is a type of plastic that is considered a poison to the environment and human health and should be avoided. My kids are all heading back to school with Ecogear backpacks and a very cool tip to note is my twins are using natural cotton backpacks that I’ll be able to compost once they become tattered and torn from use. This is exciting and I thank local store My Little Green Shop for carrying this brand for back to school. Thinking about where a product will go after you are finished using it is key to shopping green – look for items that can be recycled or composted.
Litterless lunch systems are my personal favorite part of back-to-school. We know that food with less packaging from the store is better for children’s health so a proper littlerless lunch kit provides many benefits as your kids head back to school.
Here are some items to include in your litterless lunch system:
- A stainless steel water bottle
- Cloth sandwich bags
- Proper eating utensils
- Cotton napkins
It’s All About the Tiffin
Stainless steel lunch systems are great for reusing, are dishwasher safe, and won’t leach any chemicals into food. Tiffins are our favourite! We have proudly offered them for three years at Green Planet Parties – but more importantly we use them with our own children. The same tiffin that my son first used in grade one is still going in his backpack for grade five. This longevity is possible with the cool, but plain design of stainless steel. Tiffins are really fun for kids because they resemble camping gear with their latch system. This system also ensures that the containers are not lost because it can’t be latched unless the lid and containers have been stacked.
Because you’re not working within the small confines defined by other litterless lunch systems with a tiffin, you can pack lunches quickly without chopping everything up to fit into little spaces. Whole pieces of fruit can be packed in one container for kids who like an entire apple, for example. Single walled tiffins are the standard design and really don’t need ice packs because the stainless steel keeps food crisp all day. The tiffin designs carried by Green Planet Parties are air tight so you can even put yogurt directly into a container without any worries and again, save packaging. If you are more comfortable, include an ice pack in a cotton bag with the tiffin.
Get Your Kids Involved
Children love to help the earth. It’s a big topic of discussion at school, birthday parties, and in their every day lives. I think all of our hearts broke a little with the recent death of the humpback whale from White Rock. Learning that ocean waste contributed to its passing really had an impact on my own children. They really understood in an instant why plastic is just so bad for the environment. Take your child on a beach or forest walk and talk about ways you can help the trees and whales. Keep things light with younger children and empower them with the knowledge that the little changes they’ve made going back to school this year will be helping the birds, fish, whales, and frogs! Tell older children why you are making decisions with your consumer dollars. With so many schools becoming scent-free and running composting and recycling programs, you’ll be surprised by how much they already know.
Our children are the environmental stewards of tomorrow – let’s empower them with knowledge and help them to inspire change in our world!