The first day of school is only around the corner, and as we prepare to send our little (and not so little) ones back to their classrooms, we should consider ways to reduce our impact on the environment and even save a few bob along the way. Greening your school preparations does not only mean buying from sustainable sources and products from recycled material, it also means reusing items that still have good life in them.
Here’s a list of five easy ways to ‘green’ your first day of school:
1. Uniform: Our kids usually grow out of their uniforms before they wear out. An easy way to save money is to encourage your local school to have a ‘used uniform’ sale at the end of the school year to allow parents to buy old school jumpers, jackets, etc. This can be done simply by encouraging parents to donate old uniforms and then selling at a hugely reduced price. Additionally, such sales could also involve uniform swaps whereby parents can donate items that are now too small, for larger sizes. I kitted my son out in his uniform last year for €30 (that included two school jumpers, 2 pairs of trousers and shirts for secondary school) and the quality was perfect.
2. Books: The cost of books has become extremely burdensome for many parents, especially when they have several children in school. What to do?
- Encourage your school to have a book rental scheme: Schools with book rental schemes for readers and non-workbook items reuse books for several years, thus reducing the cost burden placed on parents.
- Have a ‘used book’ sale: At the same time you hold your ‘used uniform’ sale, also include the sale of books. You just need to coordinate with your school teachers that the same books will be used in the next year. Additionally, you can sell your old books or buy second-hand books at a savings of up to 66% from www.schoolbookexchange.ie.
- Covering Books: This is a job despised by all parents. However, if you want to make your covers more interesting, use some old wallpaper from your attic as covering paper. It reuses the paper, clears out the clutter in your storage and creates a unique cover. Your child could also decorate it if it is plain. If you don’t want to spend time covering, invest in a set of plastic book covers (biodegradable, if possible) that can be used over and over throughout your children’s school career.
3. School Supplies: Where possible, buy pens/pencils/copies, etc. that are made from recycled material. A good supplier in Dublin is Klee Paper, www.kleepaper.com. They have an on-line catalogue, they deliver and their prices are competitive. Additionally, thumb through your child’s last year supplies and see what you can salvage. Copies with only a few pages used can be reused again.
4. School Lunches: Preparing school lunches can be time-consuming, expensive and hard on the environment. We throw away 1/3 of the food we buy, and this is often reflected in the lunchboxes that come home at the end of the day. Talk to your child about what they will eat and what they won’t. If you continue to put celery and carrot sticks in the lunch box and they continue to come home uneaten, this may be a message to change the menu. This is not to say that lunches should comprise crisps, biscuits and bars, but a discussion with your child may reveal what nutritious food your child will eat and may result in the production of less food waste.
Also, try to reduce the amount of packaging in your child’s lunch box…instead of packing ‘lunchables’, a juice box and breakfast bar, try crackers in a reusable container (could be an old ice cream tub) with cut up cheese and sliced ham, diluted juice or water in a reusable water bottle and a banana or apple. You would be surprised at the cumulative effect this reduction in packaging will have in your black bin levels.
Trying to feed secondary students can also be trying. Many receive money for their lunch and I don’t know how many times I see boys at the shops buying packages of biscuits, coke and crisps for their lunch. I find a good way to feed my son is to make a bit more at dinner and then pack the leftovers for his lunch in a reusable container the next day where he can use the microwave to reheat it. Of course he still buys rubbish, but I know that he has had a good lunch. He hasn’t gotten food poisoning yet!
5. Transportation: I look at the first day of school as akin to the New Year and try to come up with new resolutions like walking/biking to school where possible. Start as you mean to continue and you may find that the 10-15 min. walk is a refreshing way to start both your and your child’s day. If you can’t walk safely to school or you’re too far away, it might be beneficial to you and your neighbourhood friends to organise a car pool to share lifts to school. Children love the social aspect, you have fewer trips to the school and you reduce your fuel consumption, thus saving time and money.
There are many other ways to ‘green’ your child’s school experience both in school and at home, including school’s Green Flag programmes and after-school activities. Sharing lifts with other parents to activities is a great way to get more cars off the road. Additionally, giving experiences and vouchers as birthday gifts reduces the amount of stuff that ends up in landfill and gives a child a unique present, such as movie vouchers, child manicures, a day out at an adventure centre or the zoo. At birthday parties, instead of giving out a plastic goodie bag with sweets and plastic toys at the end, try doing an activity with the children and they can take home their home-made craft. If you don’t have time to do that, eliminate the plastic goodie bag and put some unwrapped sweeties or some buns in a paper bag. Any little change in our behaviour helps reduce our impact on the environment.