For those of us who are trying to lower our overall social and environmental impact, every new situation is an opportunity to find new ways to improve.
Greening back-to-school time is not just about replacing high-impact products with other products. Sure, we can help you with school supplies if you need tree-free pencils or if you want a backpack that is ethically made.
To truly lower your impact, though, you need to think differently. You might want to ask whether you even need that stuff at all. Don’t just accept the models you are given and consume just as much stuff bought from a different shelf in the store. Do you need that stuff?
Where can you go deeper to rethink back to school?
Where You Might Take Baby Steps
Lunch. Waste-free lunch is a good example of greening a situation that can generate a lot of garbage: wasted bags, plastic utensils, plastic cups, sandwich wraps, and even wasted food when we send lunches that our children don’t like. It can take some training to help both you and your child embrace new habits, but lunch doesn’t have to generate waste. It helps if the whole school supports waste-free lunch, but you can make the choice as a family.
Clothes. School clothes don’t have to be a huge expense if you don’t mind used clothes. You can buy used at a consignment or thrift store, but you could also just pass clothes around. I was at a friend’s house last month. As I looked at her son, I suddenly said, “Hey, those pants look familiar! I think those used to belong to my son.” My son hadn’t worn the pants for 10 years, but here they were still circulating around town among my friends. Clothes sharing and buying used clothing isn’t just about saving money. It helps your family avoid the waste of new clothes worn for only a few months before your child grows out of them.
Transportation. We usually think of the stuff of school because that is the focus in the relentless advertising we see this time of year, but consider the other new situations you face with school. You need to get your child to and from the school building. If you live close to the school, how about walking. If you aren’t close enough to walk, are you close enough to ride a bike? Walking or riding a bike will give you exercise as well as sharpening your child’s focus at school. Getting to and from school could be a time when you and your child chat about the day without too many other distractions. Even riding the bus takes much less energy than driving your own car.
As you go through these first few weeks of the new school year, help yourself become aware of the choices you are making. Take steps to lower your environmental impact as you go. Greening your choices isn’t about being perfect. It’s about taking steps as you become aware of them.