It’s almost that time again. We’re stocking up on pencils and crisp, new blue jeans and getting ready to send our children back to school. Here in Virginia, that means sending almost 1.3 million students to a little over 2,000 public institutions, and that’s not counting private colleges and paid pre-school programs. That also means a great deal of consuming, packaging, and potential waste.
About three quarters of you are planning on sending your kids to class with spanking new clothes, and there is the added cost of pencils and paper and notebooks and lunchboxes. The US Census Bureau said that we spent about $7.4 Billion on back to school shopping last year. Much of that will eventually end up in a landfill. Over half of our children who live less than a mile from a school will end up being driven in every day, and then picked up as we idle in a crowded parking lot. The average American kid will generate almost 70lbs of waste this year from school lunches alone.
Are we advocating home-schooling or playing hooky for a year? Of course not, but can you send your little one off to class and still do your part to Keep Virginia Beautiful? You betcha. There are plenty of ways to keep your back to school green.
So first things first: How much new stuff do you need? If you’re like most homes with children, there is no doubt a drawer or cabinet stuffed to the gills with pens, pencils, crayons, and the like. It would be nice to have a fresh, matched set of writing utensils, but if you actually consolidated what you had you might find that you have a semester’s worth of tools that are worthy of sending to school. The same holds true for note taking. We like to see our students organized, so we color-code and match and organize ourselves into a forest of felled trees. Binders and notepads are another area where you could easily save some money and help Keep Virginia Beautiful. You may find that many of last year’s notebooks only have a few used pages, and removing them makes for a brand new year! Taking these steps also comes in handy when you do go out shopping. It’s like looking in the refrigerator before you go grocery shopping.
Don’t stop the Reuse mission with the supplies! We spend a great deal of money on clothing that has the appearance of being worn in just right. Unless you’re growing like bamboo, the jeans that were purchased in April may be perfect for this fall. There is nothing wrong with hand-me-downs between siblings, either. Remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You’ll be purchasing fewer goods, reusing what you can, and recycling last year’s products.
About that recycle thing: What if you are raising a growing youngster and there are clothes that simply cannot be used? There are a few things that every child will need this year: A pencil case, a backpack, and a lunchbox. You can find plenty of craft projects online like this one that can help you to transform old clothing into something useful.
If you do have to purchase new things, read the darned label. Clothing made from organic cotton are much better for our environment. Do a little research to determine if your clever organizer is made from simple plastic, a clear-cut tree, or a sustainable source, like bamboo. You can also buy pens, pencils, paper and many of your other supplies, all made from recycled materials.
Lastly, how is everyone getting to school? Most school buses are diesel, and get about two miles per gallon. Many of us have fond memories of hijinks on the bus, but isn’t part of living in Virginia reveling in our beautiful scenery? October is International Walk to School Month, but why not make it a longer commitment? It’s a great opportunity to get some fresh air, enjoy some beautiful fall weather, and maybe meet some people. Many point to the fact that we often don’t know our neighbors, and it can be hard to meet them from the security of the carpool lane. You may find that there are those in your neighborhood who share your ideals, and would be willing to organize a group walk or bike ride to school. There’s safety in numbers, and you’d be doing your part.
Going back to school is exciting. There are new teachers, new classmates, and new learning experiences. There is even a First Day of School Smell. With a little thinking, you can start this year off fresh, and still do your part to make your back to school green and Keep Virginia Beautiful.