Back to School - Sustainable Style

Sustainability can be super important, especially when it comes to school supplies.

An image of several small buckets filled up with school supplies, including pencils, markers, colored pencils, and scissors.

All parents of young children know the frustrations of back to school season— specific lists handed out by teachers, crowded aisles in every store, and so many different options to choose from.

Oftentimes, the worst part is how much of it can go to waste. A kid may need a notebook for every individual class in September only to need more once again the following year.

Back to school season doesn’t have to be wasteful, though! It’s a good opportunity to save money in the long-term if you’re more mindful of what purchases you make. Plus, you can use the experience to teach your kids about sustainability.

When shopping for back to school, lately sustainability has been in style, and it’s no wonder why! Keep reading to hear some great ideas for your shopping list this fall.

Background: Sustainability for Kids

Living sustainably might not be the simplest route, but it can oftentimes be the most rewarding. There are lots of little ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

The U.S. tends to produce more and more waste every year, with plastic filling up our landfills and oceans. Sustainable living has as a result become more challenging, but it’s no less necessary.

Our kids are growing up in a world where preserving the environment has become of dire importance, and sustainability is one small way to ensure that we all do our part. 

Making sure your kids understand the importance of this can help them build good habits that will last later on in life. Back to school shopping could be a great time to start teaching sustainability to your children.

Lots of people say that “children are the future,” but it’s true! They’ll continue to live on this Earth well past our time, and so we should take care to teach them to treat it well!

An image of several children sitting in a classroom and writing at their desks.
When kids are at school, they’re learning important knowledge that they’ll need going forward in life, but you as the parent should also take care to help cultivate their curiosity about the world.

The first step to helping kids value sustainability is to make sure they know what it means. You should show them that a broken toy or torn clothes doesn’t immediately make those formerly favored objects useless— they haven’t lost all their value.

Toys can be put back together again often, and if you can’t do the same with clothes and some sewing, then turn it into something new! A dress torn at the bottom could transform into a shirt, for example.

This plays into core principles of sustainability— reusing and recycling! Both of these help to reduce waste production.

Becoming a “considerate consumer” is a super important part of sustainability, too, so it’s not just about knowing when to throw away what you already own. Your kids will also benefit from knowing how to shop sustainably.

Even though consumerism is at an all-time high right now, encourage your children to shop secondhand when feasible. Thankfully, thrifting is also popular right now, and you can often find a lot of hidden gems in well-known chains like Plato’s Closet or Goodwill.

In addition, teach your kids to avoid going on huge shopping sprees once they’re a bit older. Purchasing lots of new things at once should be reserved for special occasions. This will help your children value their belongings more, take better care of it, and also be more financially responsible.

When children learn something from a young age, it will stay with them longer. So, by teaching your kids about sustainability, you’ll ensure that they develop healthy habits to carry with them into adulthood.

Sustainable Clothing

Clothes are a pretty important part of back to school shopping, especially because the school year starts at the change of the season, and kids are always growing out of their things. In order to shop for clothes sustainably, you have to pay attention to materials.

Lots of synthetic fabrics that are used very often in clothing can be treated with harmful chemicals— formaldehyde, pesticides, and flame retardants to name a few. Not only can these types of chemicals potentially irritate skin, they also aren’t good for the environment.

You should always check the label of clothes before you buy so you can know its composition. 

Clothing production has a really negative impact on the environment generally speaking, but buying eco-friendly clothing made from organic materials is definitely the way to go if you want to be more sustainable.

An image of various clothes hanging up, mostly shorts and slacks, in all different colors.
At first glance, it can be difficult to tell which clothes are sustainable and which are not. Being eco-friendly means putting more thought into your purchases, however.

Lots of more eco-friendly clothes also happen to be of higher-quality, and therefore last longer. Some materials that are better in terms of sustainability are organic cotton, linen, hemp, and bamboo. None of the plants that these fabrics come from require a lot of pesticides.

Sustainable jeans are very popular currently, which can be made from organic cotton, hemp, or recycled denim.

Unfortunately, oftentimes clothing that’s better for the environment can also come at a higher price. This is part of why fast fashion has become so popular— and so problematic.

Lots of fast fashion companies have their employees working in terrible conditions to put out clothing incredibly quickly so that they can keep up with trends. These clothes may cost less, but as a result they’re usually of poor quality.

Trends come and go so fast, though, that a lot of the clothing can end up in a landfill, and more often than not clothes from fast fashion brands are made from synthetic fibers and so won’t degrade naturally over time.

You can still shop secondhand to find sustainable clothes if they’re out of your price range, though— and thrifting is very eco-friendly in and of itself! 

Back to school season is also a great time to look for sales and promotions, because companies know a lot of people will be shopping for new clothes. Especially if they’re marked down, you’ll want to invest in high-quality items so your kids can get more use out of them.

Sustainable School Supplies

Making sure your kids get the most use out of their stuff is another good reason to shop for sustainable school supplies

Recycled and upcycled materials can be a huge part of this. Lots of brands are realizing that people want eco-friendly things, so recycled paper, plastic, and fabric are used in the making of many different products now.

Stationary is a big one, because more likely than not your kid will need to pick up a lot of items in this aisle of the store. 

A close-up image of brightly colored pencils, markers, and highlighters on display for sale.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the different brightly colored pens in the store— help narrow it down by choosing to shop sustainably.

Pens, pencils, erasers, and notebooks— you name it, there’s usually a sustainable alternative! Pencils made from recycled materials and refillable pens may be a good way to start.

As more and more schools provide kids with electronic devices to use for class, you may also want to investigate the possibility of digital note-taking rather than buying every color of notebook sold at Staples.

You probably won’t be able to avoid the multi-colored folder aisle, but if you buy high-quality, sustainable folders once then your child can just keep them for the following September!

Sustainable backpacks are also super popular at present! For example, Day Owl backpacks in particular have been all the rage lately, and for good reason. The waxed canvas is made from recycled post-consumer plastic bottles while the backpack itself is 100% recycled polyester lining and trim.

You should get a sustainable lunchbox to go with your backpack, too, and even what goes inside your lunchbox can be more eco-friendly. Use tupperware instead of ziploc bags, reusable straws instead of plastic, et cetera.

As you can see, there are plenty of simple ways to make you and your children’s lives just that little bit more sustainable. What better time to start than back-to-school season, when there are more options in stores than ever?

We’ve hardly exhausted everything in this article, and if you put your mind to it you can definitely think up some more ways to introduce more sustainability into your shopping!

Charlotte Pearse

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