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Go Green for Back to School

You can go to the head of the class with these tips for going green and saving green.

Have you noticed? The days are beginning to get shorter. The darkness is creeping up on us a little earlier.    

When I glance around, I can see the yellowing of the leaves on some of the trees around town. Summer is drawing to a close. Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, is fast approaching. And for many folks this signals the return of the kids to school. 

Back-to-school shopping is in full swing. The aisles at local stores are packed with parents purchasing everything from binders to backpacks, from lunchboxes to loose-leaf paper. But how much of this stuff do you even really need? And how much is even safe for your child? 

According to the National Retail Federation, in 2012 parents and other caregivers with kids in grades K-12 are expected to spend an average of $688 on items to send the kids back to school this year. This includes clothes, clasroom materials and other supplies.

That's a lot of materials. And too often those materials are made from non-recycled materials, or potentially hazardous chemicals, and could easily and inexpensively be substituted with better, greener, more economical choices.

Here's a little guide on how you just might be able to reduce your back-to-school spending and your carbon footprint at the same time.

Recycle. I know some people might tire of hearing this one again and again, but it really is the easiest and most obvious choice for someone who wants to see the amount of consumer waste and deforestation reduced and the amount of trees planted or preserved increased. For every ton of paper (approximately 220,000 sheets) that is recycled, about 17 trees are saved. Purchasing recycled paper, and making sure that you are in turn recycling what you are using, can make a big difference.

Reuse. Check out what you can reuse from last year. Parents often rush out to buy new stuff only to find they already had some items still in perfectly good shape from the previous year. 

Items like backpacks, lunchboxes and pencil cases can all stand the test of time if you purchase a good, durable one up front. There's no need to buy new every fall. It may cost a little more initially, but you really do get what you pay for. Shelling out $60 for a backpack may seem like a lot when the shelves are lined with $20 options, but if it’s going to last them through their elementary school years, it’s worth it.

A good, well-made, backpack can outlast your kids' educational needs. Be sure to pass it along or donate it to a thrift store or Goodwill if it still has some life left in it. This will keep it out of the landfill and help someone else out in the process.

Take stock. Before you run out with the school supply list in hand to purchase every item recommended for the coming year, take stock of what you have at home. Do an inventory of what you may have in your home office, kitchen or craft supply drawer. You may not have used up all 100 pencils that you bought for last year's back-to-school list. Perhaps you stocked up on crayons back in January when you saw them on sale for 25 ¢? Go through everything you've got and take a list with you to the store to avoid unnecessary purchases and impulse buys. 

Collaborate. Ask friends with children in the same general age category what they have that they don't need and offer up an exchange. Perhaps they have 10 extra folders lying around they bought at a super sale. They may need the backpack that your child has just outgrown. You can also collaborate with other parents on transportation to and from school, and on activities for the kids to reduce pollution, save time, and money for gas and car maintenance.

Think outside the box. Forgo the brown bag lunches and the seemingly endless supply of plastic sandwich baggies and opt instead for a washable, reusable lunch box or bag, and reusable containers for its contents. Just be sure to invest in one of the many new BPA free plastic lunch containers now available. BPA (Bisephenol A) is a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked to a host of neurological and other problems, particularly in children, due to its heavy presence in items like baby bottles, sippy cups, and plastic bottles and containers.

Not only does ditching the disposables reduce a whole lot of daily waste (an estimated 67 pounds of waste per year per student) created by school lunches, but it opens up your options to serving more than just a sandwich and a bag of chips. Many have individual compartments that can hold cheese, crackers, salads, fresh-cut fruit, veggies, dip and more. Many come fully insulated, some with their own built in cooling pack. Pair these with a reusable BPA-free thermos instead of juice boxes or water bottles, and a cloth napkin, and you have a super easy and completely waste-free school lunch! 

The Rest. As you prepare your kids to say goodbye to swimsuits and sunglasses and hello to backpacks and books, remind the kids to be mindful of how much they are using and, more importantly, how much they may be wasting. Remind them to put their bottles, cans and papers in the recycling bin. Remind them to turn the water off while brushing their teeth, and shorten their shower or bath time. Make sure they remember to turn the lights, television, and video games off when they leave a room.

Lastly, model by example. This is important not just at back-to-school time, but all year long. If your kids see you reusing things instead of just tossing them away, if they notice you recycling, and doing things to save energy, they are much more likely to do the same. 

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