I don't know who needs to hear this, but you probably don't have to go "back to school" shopping.
Clearly just a ploy for consumer spending, chances are you have everything you need for your kids to go back to school without an expensive trip to Walmart.
Marketed as a big occasion or a right of passage, entering a new grade doesn't need to be a gift giving or stocking up occasion. Here are a few thoughts on how to prepare for school sustainably:
Back to School Clothing
Ya don't need it
I remember a tradition of kids receiving a new back to school outfit. Likely intended on soothing over the transition of carefree summer days to stricter school schedules, a new outfit also helped redirect any first day jitters and provided a sense of confidence for kids entering new classes. At least, I think that's what was going on. My family very rarely purchased brand new clothing, so I'm making some assumptions here. Like The Beer Store, we were green before green was cool.
Look, I know fashion is important to some people (and I'm not judging) but fast fashion is detrimental to us all. There's also a high likelihood that their clothing was made by a child in a developing country, which kinda ruins the "special" factor.
When it comes to clothing - back to school or otherwise - use what you have. I bet your kids closet is jammed packed with perfectly good clothing.
Secondly - kids grow out of clothing so dog-gone-it quickly that you can get awesome used clothing for a fraction of the price. Buying used is one of the best things consumers can do to lessen their environmental impact.
Back to School Gear
Ya (probably) don't need it
Another case of "use what you have", most school gear is reusable year after year. Backpacks, binders, pencil cases, lunch boxes...if they still work, use'em!
It's really easy for kids to fall victim to "needing" new items just because their new favourite cartoon is featured on it, but these passing fades are also synonymous with our cheap throw-away culture, where the expectation is that they're only going to last a year (if you're lucky).
The best thing you can do is to invest in a quality product that will last years, particularly items like lunch boxes and backpacks. Extra points if you can find it used.
If you have a child that insists on personalization, try decals or badges (hello cricut!). Both are highly customizable and removable them they're over it.
Back to School Stationary
Ya might need it
Kids go through a lot of paper. And unfortunately paper goes through a lot of trees. Do you best to lessen the effect by exclusively buying notebooks and paper made with 100% post consumer recycled content. What's the different? Recycled content is "manufacturer waste that never actually made it to the consumer for one reason or another: scraps, rejects, trimmings—the stuff that ends up on the factory floor and is repurposed into something new rather than trashed". Post consumer recycled is "made from waste that’s been used by a consumer, disposed of, and diverted from landfills—stuff like the aluminum cans and newspapers that you place in your recycling bin for pick-up." (more info found here).
Similarly, pencils, pencil crayons, and pens do get consumed and need replacing. Always make sure to scout your home (and possibly your friend's homes as well) for these items. I'd eat my hat if you don't know someone with a junk drawer bursting with writing utensils they'd love to clear out. When you do need to purchase new, look for the companies putting in the effort. Ink in particular has a high environmental toll, but there are brands available that use recycled or plant based ink. Show them some support!
Make Litterless Lunches actually litterless
Packed lunches are the bane of all parent's mornings. Maybe you're a seasoned parent and nip that in the bud the night before, but I personally haven't gotten there yet!
Schools are increasingly mandating litterless lunches, or more specifically, they're sick of dealing with the garbage. And honestly, who can blame them?
Let's do some math! If every student uses just one individually wrapped snack a day, that's 180 wrappers per school year. Now multiple that by the 5.5 million students in schools across Canada....and we've got ourselfves a serious problem.
Make your litterless lunches *actually* litterless with our ReJuiceable Juice Pouches and zipper snack and sandwich bags. Forgo the individually packaged snacks with a trip to the bulk store (don't forget your jars!), and spend an evening prepping this week's fruit and veggie snacks with our silicone food storage bags.
Make it a family affair
Going back to school can be sustainable, and you'll be much more successful when you loop your family into the discussion. Kids are learning about the climate crisis and environmental concerns more so than our generation ever did, and you may be surprised on how on board they'll be, and they probably have a few great suggestions to throw into the mix, too.
I'd love to hear any other thoughts on how you make your Back to School season as sustainable as possible. Let us know in the comments any tips that we missed!