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Tips to Make Going Back to School Greener and More Sustainable

Explore ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle

When shopping for back-to-school supplies, explore ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle more where you live, work, play, and learn. With fall quickly approaching, it's time for students to return to class, and school supplies are likely at the top of many people's shopping list. This is a great time to choose sustainable choices that help protect the planet and support stronger, healthier communities.

Whether it's the first day of pre-school or senior year of college, here's what to keep in mind if going green and sustainability are on your back-to-school list:

Shopping for back-to-school supplies

Sustainability starts at the shopping cart. Consider the following when shopping for school supplies:

  • Before shopping, complete an inventory of what you already have. Obtain a list from your children's school and teachers and ask yourself if and how it's going to be used.
  • Seek items made from recycled materials and are durable to last the school year and beyond, and when looking for paper or notebooks, look for post-consumer recycled content. Post-recycled material and/or eco-friendly supplies are generally marked with a special tag or specified on the packaging. Lunch boxes, pencil holders, backpacks, and even clothing can be made from recycled water and soda bottles.
  • Packing a lunch can lead to less wastefulness at school, particularly when packed items are reused, recycled, and composted. Pack food you know will be eaten, and save food that you planned to throw out. If you pack a school lunch, be sure to include reusable utensils, containers, and even straws. Leftovers may be composted at home or in participating communities, while some non-reusable items such as bottles and cans can be recycled.
  • Use recycled paper. And, before discarding paper (in the recycling), consider using it for craft, scratch paper, or other school projects.

Returning to campus/college move-in

Whether you or your children are incoming first-year students or returning to campus this fall, pursuing a greener move-in experience is possible if you consider:

  • Coordinate needs with future roommates/suitemates and only bring what you need. It may be possible to coordinate large purchases such as furniture and appliances and try to shop for goods second-hand.
  • Add items made from recycled and eco-friendly materials to your shopping list.
  • Ensure dorm rooms and suites have a recycling container and students understand when, where, and how to recycle items. Remember, just because it's recyclable at home doesn't mean it's recyclable on campus, and vice versa. Universities may also require residents to separate recyclables.
  • Pack reusable plates, napkins, and cutlery.
  • Bring real, live plants that can cleanse the air verses plastic ones that will one day need to be trashed.
  • Don't forget reusable shopping bags for groceries and other items.

Getting your supplies home

Whether you're shopping online or venturing to the store, keep these tips in mind to be sustainable with your shopping bags, shipping boxes, and packaging:

  • Remember when shopping for back-to-school supplies to take your reusable shopping bags. Plastic retail bags are not recyclable in your curbside carts and should be returned to participating drop-off locations.
  • If you purchase school supplies online, be sure to flatten and recycle your shipping boxes.
  • Check locally and follow directions on packaging before discarding.

Donating to school supply drives

Consider donating money instead of materials to school supply drives. This can ensure an appropriate inventory of supplies schools need the most.

Learn more:

*Adapted from content created by the Recycling Partnership.

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