Tips for a sustainable school year

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, August 30, 2012

Many of us are trying to live more sustainable lifestyles by wasting less, recycling more, and purchasing products made with recycled materials. What about our kids at school? Does back-to-school shopping – which doesn’t really end when the kids are back to school – offer an opportunity to teach our kids a thing or two about sustainability?

It absolutely does, now that more and more school supplies are made with recycled materials, spurred in large part by progress in plastics recycling. By taking just a bit of extra time shopping for and seeking out products made with recycled materials, you and your kids can help the environment, learn a valuable lesson, and maybe even feel a little better about your purchases.

Every kid wants a cool backpack for the school year, and parents want to make sure it will stand up to many months – or possibly years – of heavy lifting. And dropping. And dragging. Some companies now make tough, durable backpacks using fabrics made with recycled plastics. The fabrics typically begin as water and soft drink bottles that are melted down, stretched into a fine thread and woven. These backpacks help divert bottles from landfills, and they are available in all sorts of sizes, colors and patterns to suit your child’s style.

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Anyone who shops for school supplies is confronted with a seemingly infinite selection of pens and pencils. You can steer your kids toward sustainable options by looking for those made with recycled materials, such as old blue jeans, waste wood and plastics. Some contain plastics from unlikely sources, such as used compact discs, car headlights – even cellphones – so they’re durable, long lasting and sustainable.

Reusable lunch bags and resealable containers help reduce waste all school year, and now you can find them made with recycled plastics. Several of these durable bags also have insulating properties to help keep food fresher until lunchtime, and the plastic cloth is easy to wipe clean. Reusable, sealable containers help protect your child’s food, and many are built to last for years and stand up to the dishwasher – and then can be recycled again.

Many schools ask students to bring art supplies to class. A shopping excursion is a great opportunity to look for arts and crafts supplies made with recycled materials. For example, rulers and scissors made with recycled plastics are available at many mainstream retailers. And some major art supplies companies now sell products, such as markers and crayon sharpeners, with recycled content to help close the recycling loop.

You and your kids can help your school officials close the recycling loop as well by encouraging them to purchase furniture for classrooms and equipment for the school yard made with recycled materials. Many manufacturers make tables, desks, chairs, picnic tables, bleachers and playground equipment with recycled plastics, wood and other materials. These durable products can last for many years – teaching kids about sustainability every year.

Kids are showered with messages to do more and to buy more every school year. So shopping for school supplies presents a prime opportunity to discuss how recycling can help the environment by using less material and energy and requiring less space to be dedicated to landfills. Recycled products can help you and your student do more … with less.