Your Eco-Friendly Back to School Shopping Guide

Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Back to School Shopping

Back to school season has arrived, and it’s time to start thinking about how you can make back to school shopping as eco-friendly as possible.

This season can be a particularly wasteful time. We often replace used but still usable items with something more on trend. Or we simply purchase something brand new because we aren’t sure if we have it at home already. 

But eco-friendly back to school shopping can save you time, money, and get you some pretty good stuff. So, if you want to practice a little green living this year, these five tips will give you a great place to start:

Make a shopping list and check it twice!

It might not be time for Santa Clause to make his rounds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few notes from his playbook. There is no sense in buying what you already have. So before you head to the store make a list of what you need this school season.

Once you have a school supply list in hand, check around your home to see what you already have and can use or repurpose. Chances are you have extra pens and pencils from last year kicking around. You probably don’t need to buy a new calculator, and you might even find old notebooks with pages leftover.

No one denies that getting new things is exciting, but there are ways you can jazz up recycled school items. You can:

Personalizing is a great money-saving alternative to buying something brand new. It also means that the old items you have kicking around the house won’t go to waste, and end up adding to the already growing landfills.

Sometimes you do need to clean out old items that can’t be reused. Make sure you’re sorting your waste properly by using GarbageDay’s new WhichBin? feature. If you don’t already have the free GarbageDay app, download it today. You’ll get all the answers to whether crayons can be recycled or not (they can’t, they go in the garbage) and so much more!

Avoid PVC plastics

Not everything can be repurposed. When it comes to purchasing brand new items, it’s important to keep in mind the material you’re using. 

Not all plastic is made equal. PVC plastics can release “toxic, chlorine-based chemicals” that build up in the water and air. This can ultimately result in severe health problems, like cancer and hormone disruption. 

This is all to say that when you’re buying new school supplies, avoid items that include PVC plastic. It is most often indicated by a number three in the triangle plastic symbol. PVC plastic is often found in items like binders, lunch boxes, and backpacks.

The best alternatives include materials like natural canvas, recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE, RPET or Type 1 plastics), and notebooks that are recycled and chlorine-free.

Choose second hand clothes

You can build a brand new wardrobe (or update the old one) without falling prey to fast fashion trends and spending a bunch of unnecessary cash. The average Canadian tosses away 37 kg (81 pounds) of clothing each year. You can bet that a good chunk of that number is low quality pieces that fall apart after a few uses.

Giving old clothes a new life is a great way to not only upcycle, but reduce the chemical pollution caused by producing new clothes. Many second-hand clothing stores have back to school sales. Not to mention the cost of buying used clothes is significantly cheaper than getting something brand new.

You don’t even need to visit a second-hand store in person to get new threads. ThredUp, Penny Arcade, and Gemini Rising Vintage all offer secondhand clothes that you can purchase from the comfort of your own home.

When it comes to cleaning out your closet to make room for your new clothes, consider donating. You can also use a store like Plato’s Closet or Poshmark‘s marketplace to give your old items a chance for a new life (and possibly make a little money).

Use eco-friendly lunch items

Every year Canadians toss out 3-million tonnes of plastic waste (most of which doesn’t get recycled). Single-use items are a big chunk of that. Plastic water bottles, cling wrap, milk cartons, and single-serve snack packs are used once then tossed in the trash. There are readily available alternatives for you to go with.

This year, when you do your back to school shopping, opt for reusable items that are more environmentally friendly. You can pack a zero waste lunch by using a Bento Box or other sectioned container. Cut the excess plastic with washable sandwich bags. 

You can also cut back on the trash by swapping out single-use brown paper bags with a reusable eco-friendly lunch bag. Something made from canvas, cloth, or even stainless steel is easy to maintain and will last you the next few school years (at least).

Support local farms

Fresh always seems tastier. The closer to your table (or lunch kit) you can get your food, the fresher it’s bound to be. This is why supporting local farms is great for building delicious back-to-school lunches.

Not only does shopping locally for your school lunch make for a more delicious bite to eat, but it means reducing the distance it needs to travel to get to your table. Buying local food means that it doesn’t need to be imported. It helps reduce the pesticides and preservatives you consume.

You can go one-step further in reducing the food miles by starting your own garden. Gardening is a great family activity, and you can use scraps from the fruits and veggies you eat everyday to give you a head start.

Being a better back to school shopper

Back to school season can be an expensive time of year. But between getting a new wardrobe and backpack to purchasing school supplies, there are a few ways you can cut back both your spending and waste. It takes a little practice to live a more eco-friendly life, but in the long run it can really pay off.

Upcycling a pencil box or purchasing a recycled pencil sharpener is just one small step you can make towards living green. To make an even bigger impact, sign up for GarbageDay so we can deliver new eco-living tips every week!

Download the GarbageDay app today!​

Never miss your local waste and recycling collection day again! GarbageDay helps keep you up-to-date on your city's collection schedule with timely reminders letting you know which bin to take out as well as tips and tricks to enjoy a more sustainable and eco-friendly home.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.

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