Back to school, one of those post-vacation tasks of the last days of summer days in which many of us could save time and money if we applied some of the basic principles of a zero waste lifestyle.
As parents we often get sucked into purchasing new materials – many of them unnecessary and even harmful for our planet – for the sake of motivating our children and helping them get round to the idea of school again after the long summer holidays.
According to research firm Mintel, on average parents in the UK spend £428 sending their kids back to school. One in six families even cut back on essentials like heating and food to pay for school uniforms.
With these figures in mind I thought it would be interesting and relevant to share some tips so that the return to school this school year is a bit more zero waste and sustainable.
Zero waste recommendations to reduce the cost of going back to school and cut waste
Well, here we go with the list of recommendations so that the start of this new school year has less impact on your bank account and the environment as well. Just think of all the plastic around us.
1. Check what you already have before buying new
How many times have you gone out to buy something new (for example, a pencil, notebook, …) and the next day you find that you already have one tucked away in the bottom of a drawer or the back of a cupboard. That’s why I advise you to always review and order all the school material you already have and make a list of what you’re missing. This is a fun “find as many as you can” activity to do with your kids.
2. Reuse as much as possible
Take advantage of reusing material that has been left over from previous years such as pencils, notebooks, folders … For example, you can tear out the half-used notebook sheets and before recycling them use them as scrap note paper if they have any unused sides. Then you can use the rest of the notebook for a new subject this year.
One of my tricks to reuse my daughers’ backpacks for more than a year is to wash them thoroughly in the washing machine and then redecorate them with a new keychain or handicraft they made over the summer holidays.
Reuse uniforms. Last year our daughers had some long-sleeved school sports shirts. As it was a very hot and sticky year they hardly wore them so they were like new. What I did was cut the sleeves off to turn them into short sleeved shirts. I did the same with the long sport pants too and converted them into shorts. Don’t fret if you don’t know how to sew, you can always go to a sewing shop to get the changes made.
3. Buy the best quality within your means
The old sayings “you get what you pay for” or “buy cheap, pay dear” have never been more accurate. Low quality ends up costing you more in the long run becasue you have to replace it more often and waste time shopping the same item twice over. It has negative consequences for the environment since as low quality has a shorter life span, is often more difficult to recycle or not even recyclable therefore ending up in the landfil.
4. Ask yourself Is it really necessary
Many times we buy on impulse and not based on necessity. We buy material that is forgotten without hardly having used it. Other times we buy things that we don’t even need. One of the things we decided a long time ago was not to cover text books and thus avoid the use of plastic. We don’t see the need to cover textbooks with plastic. Why not? Do we line other reading books that we use (novels, manuals, recipe books …) Also, you don’t know how much time you save by not having to cover them 😉. So remember to always ask yourself: do I really need this?
Zero waste alternatives for back to school
Now that you have refined your list with only the materials you really need, here are some alternatives for buying school supplies which are plastic free, biodegradable, recyclable or rechargeable.
Sustainable school supplies
Substitute fluorescent markers with coloured pencils like these recycled pencils by Green & Good. Pencils do not create plastic waste and generally last longer than markers. There’s no chance of them drying out either. Choose wood or metal instead of plastic pencil sharpers to complete the set!
Other stationary essentials include recycled rubber erasers, artgum natural rubber erasers, wooden or bamboo rulers, wooden maths sets like the ones from Onyx + Green and recycled paper notebooks.
To carry textbooks or clothes for extracurricular activities, backpacks and natural cloth tote bags such as canvas are the most sustainable options that I can recommend if you want to avoid using plastic in these types of products. They are just as durable and at the end of their life they are recyclable or biodegradable.
Reuse school uniforms
A classic option is hand-me-downs from siblings. These days though you can also take part in swap days which some schools arrnage, make sure to check secondhand sites like Gumtree or Pre-loved. This article on where to buy second hand uniform has a good summary. You could also check threads on mumsnet to see what you come up with .
Healthy, plastic free snacks
I recommend you chekc ou post on Healthy snacks without plastic wrapping that children will love for some of out top tried and tested tips.
I hope these zero waste tips will help you so that the return to school is not so uphill this year. By the way, if you have any recommendations or tricks to reduce waste for the back to school season, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below or on social networks. This is our Instagram account in case you want to check us out @verdonce_bags