Eco-novice's Back-to-School Guide

I meant to write this post several weeks ago. I also meant to begin getting ready for my son to return to school several weeks ago. If you are already back in school, I hope you've had a peaceful and happy transition. Here are some back-to-school tips for the procrastinators.

Avoid PVC in backpacks and other school supplies.

Why avoid PVC or vinyl (the #3 plastic)? According to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
PVC, also known as vinyl plastic, is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment. From production to use and disposal, vinyl releases a toxic cocktail of chemicals...Scientists have found certain vinyl chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, diabetes and other preventable chronic diseases on the rise. (emphasis and link mine, source)
Products often made of vinyl include backpacks with shiny plastic designs (often vinyl with phthalates), flexible plastic pencil cases, colorful paperclips and other plastic-coated metal, plastic lunch boxes, or 3-ring binders. Look for backpacks, lunch boxes, binders and other supplies that are labeled PVC-free. You can also consult CHEJ's Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, which includes a list of PVC-free products. Also check out this interview by the Green Sisterhood with Mike Shade of CHEJ about the importance of avoiding toxins in conventional school supplies.

My son loves his Crocodile Creek backpack (and matching lunch box), which I purchased last year after consulting CHEJ's PVC-free Guide. Other PVC-free backpacks that are great for younger kids include Zoo Packs by Skip Hop and all Beatrix backpacks. We also own Jansport and High Sierra backpacks, which are great PVC-free choices for older kids and adults. MightyNest has a large selection of PVC-free backpacks and lunch boxes for kids of all ages by several different manufacturers.

By choosing eco-friendly and non-toxic academic supplies, you can avoid PVC and other substances harmful to your child's health and the environment. Click here for a list of things to look for and things to avoid when shopping for school supplies.

Dress green.

One very thrifty and eco-friendly option is to shop for back-to-school outfits at the thrift store. My son attends a school with a uniform, which can make shopping second-hand more challenging. However, it also means my son can fearlessly wear the exact same outfit several days in a row (this usually requires a bit of spot cleaning) without anyone being the wiser. I have found that most clothing marketed as "uniform clothing" is at least part polyester and labeled as "wrinkle-resistant" and/ or "stain-resistant" -- all indications that a fabric has been treated with formaldehyde. I have learned to skip the "uniform" section, and search for 100% cotton pants and polos that are not labeled as wrinkle-resistant of the appropriate colors instead.

Pack a healthy, waste-free lunch.

We've been fans of reusable lunch products for many years now, ever since we said goodbye to disposable Ziploc baggies. You will find a huge selection of eco-friendly lunch products whether shopping on Etsy, Amazon, or your favorite eco-friendly store. Click here to read about some of our tried-and-true favorites. You can further reduce waste by skipping individually packaged foods and making your own goodies and snacks packed in reusable containers. I am always on the look out for healthy snack recipes that pack well. Finally, don't forget the reusable napkins and utensils.

Help your school go green.

When I get handed the teacher's wish list for classroom supplies at back-to-school night, I quickly scan for those products whose conventional versions are most likely to concern me, such as hand sanitizer. Then I volunteer to purchase those products and make sure the classroom stays stocked with an eco-friendly version (such as EO hand sanitizer). I hope to get involved this year with pushing for better fund raisers (walk-a-thon and read-a-thon instead of tupperware and catalog sales), and to eventually lobby for greener cleaning supplies and better school lunches. But first I have to figure out which of the teachers are greenies who will support my causes.

Cut your emissions.

Walking to school is awesome in so many ways. Too bad we can't do it. However, I am trying to work out some carpooling, and pledge to never let my car idle while waiting for my child. I actually plan to park my car and meet my child at the classroom door, and maybe even stay and play on the playground for a while with my other two kids sometimes.

Are you ready for school to start?
How have you greened your back-to-school routine?

Additional Resources

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  1. We start back to school next Tuesday. We are ready supply and clothing-wise. Honestly not sure I'm ready mentally yet. This summer has been fun but not exactly as relaxing as I would have liked. I try to green as much as I can, but you have certainly up-ed the ante!

    1. My knowledge always exceeds my behavior, Kristina. The school-wide stuff will be esp. tough for me. I don't like making waves so I'm trying to work for changes VERY gradually. And, yes, the summer always goes too fast, without enough lounging around doing nothing, doesn't it?

  2. I'm SOOO happy you're educating parents about the nasties in PVC! It's so sad that such a toxic plastic is present in so many of our kids' school supplies and backpacks.

    1. I know. Kind of like the baby bottles made of BPA. Seems like the worst nasties often end up in kids' products.

  3. I love how you advocate for getting involved at school and seeking out teachers open to your ideas! It takes parent advocates to make a difference, as teachers do as much as they can, but they can't do it all on their own. As a teacher in the same district where my children go to school, I worry about how much I can say and suggest without rocking the boat. I really does depend on open teachers.

    1. I believe there is an "Eco-club" in the upper grades, so my first task will be to figure out which teacher is heading that up.


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