8 Ideas for a More Sustainable Back-to-School Season

sustainable back-to-school season

For most families, back-to-school season means big spending.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school-related items this year (including school supplies and new clothes). College students and their families will spend even more—nearly $1,200—on school necessities.

With so many school supplies needed at once, it can be tempting to buy it all on Amazon or hit up Target’s back-to-school sales. But it’s important to think about what you buy and how it impacts the planet.

As you plan your school supply shopping, consider the following ways to have a more sustainable back-to-school season.

1. Use What You Have

Having a more sustainable school year doesn’t have to mean spending more money. You might even have a lot of what you need at home.

Before you shop for school supplies, use up what you already have.

Get the most use out of your supplies by using them up completely before recycling them. Have a half-used notebook? Finish it up before buying another one. The same goes for pens that still have ink in them or crayons that are only partially used.

Take inventory of the supplies you have on hand before you head out to the store or shop online.

Make sure you don’t have any functional supplies lying around before you buy new ones. Not only will this be better for the planet, it’ll save you money…and even help clear out some clutter at home!

2. Ask, “Will I Really Use It?”

Take the time to think about your shopping list before you buy. What is the likelihood that you’ll actually use everything on it? Do you really need to buy it all, or could you make do with less?

Before you buy that 12-pack of glue sticks on sale, ask yourself if your child is really going to make 12 glue sticks-worth of art projects. If you’re not sure, consider buying some now, and buying the rest later if you end up needing it.

To reduce waste and unnecessary spending, be realistic about your back-to-school needs.

3. Buy Recycled and Reusable

There are tons of products readily available that are made from recycled materials, such as recycled paper, notebooks, folders, writing utensils…these days, you can even find scissors made with recycled-content handles.

Aim to replace as many of your typical school supplies as possible with recycled products.

Also, consider buying products you can reuse or recycle, such as refillable pens, biodegradable pencils, solar-powered calculators, and reusable water bottles, utensils, and lunch boxes.

4. Reuse and Thrift for Greener Clothes Shopping

Clothes shopping is a major part of back-to-school consumption. And as much as every kid (and adult…let’s be honest) loves getting new outfits for school, all of those clothes can lead to a lot of landfill waste.

In 2018 alone, 11.3 million tons of textiles ended up in our landfills, according to the EPA.

To help stem that waste stream, reuse clothes as long as you can, and thrift when you need something new-to-you. And since thrifting clothes is back in fashion, it’s relatively easy to find great shops for used and vintage clothing!

Try out local stores like:

These stores are not only fun places to shop for clothes and other goods, but they also support important social missions. For your fashion-minded family members, Buffalo Exchange is a great option, and if you’re on the hunt for coats and outdoor gear check out Repair Lair. Not only is shopping reused better for the planet and more affordable, it can also be a lot of fun!

5. Buying New? Look for Products That Last

When you do need to buy new items, look for products that will last a lifetime. For backpacks or winter coats, try Patagonia. For messenger bags that stand the test of time, consider Frost River or Relan.

When you buy high-quality products like this, you’ll have items that will last, which not only reduces waste but will be more cost-effective in the long run. And often, these products will come with a lifetime warranty.

Just think…what if you didn’t have to buy your kid a new backpack every year? Both the Earth and your bank account will thank you!

6. Choose Refurbished Tech

If you’re shopping for a new computer, smartphone, or tablet, consider buying refurbished from Repowered. When you buy refurbished technology from us, you’ll get high-quality electronics that won’t break the bank.

You’ll also help reduce e-waste and the pollution that results from it. E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream—worldwide, more than 50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated each year!

Plus, all purchases come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year warranty.

And if you’re replacing old technology, don’t forget to recycle it! Recycle your old computers, phones, tablets, and more with Repowered: we’ll refurbish or recycle your old tech so it doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Need an idea for a field trip this year? Repowered offers tours of our facilities for schools and sustainability clubs. Contact us to learn more.

7. Opt for Green Transportation

Whether you’re roaming around campus or your kids need to get to and from school, consider using green transportation options.

Instead of driving everywhere, consider biking or walking as much as possible. The Twin Cities are highly bikeable cities: in fact, Minneapolis has been dubbed the “most bikeable city in the U.S.” In most places throughout the metro area, it’s easy to find a fun, safe trail to take to school.

And in cases where biking or walking isn’t an option, there’s always public transportation or the school bus. Or, consider starting a carpool with other families in your area.

8. Sustainability for the College-Bound

The college years can be hectic…especially for freshmen just embarking on their higher education journey. In the chaos of the first few months of school, it can be hard to remember to think sustainably. And if you’re living in the dorms, some green practices are harder to maintain than others.

Here are a few simple recommendations for a more sustainable back-to-school season for college students:

  • Use reusable or recyclable packaging for move-in.
  • Keep receptacles for both trash and recycling in your room.
  • Opt for used or even rented books. Better yet, head to your school’s “Free and For Sale” Facebook page and try to purchase used books and supplies from other students. Buying used is better for the planet and you’ll save some cash.
  • Save energy and money by drying your laundry on a drying rack, rather than in the dryer.
  • For furniture and other supplies for your dorm or apartment, shop at rummage sales, Goodwill, Arc’s Value Village, or the U of M’s Reuse Program Warehouse.

We hope these ideas help you and your family have a more sustainable back-to-school season this year!

If electronics like desktops, laptops, or tablets are on your back-to-school shopping list, stop by our St. Paul or Golden Valley retail locations (Tue-Sat 10am-6pm) or browse our online store for the quality refurbished technology you need to make this school year a great one.

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