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Back-to-School Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Prevent waste and save money this school shopping season.

August 6, 2011

As some households gear up for back-to-school, they might be thinking of the three Rs as reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. For this August, I ask that we re-frame the back-to-school mindset with the three Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle.

For families with children going to school, or adults taking classes, getting prepared and buying supplies (sometimes WAY too many supplies) is part of the routine in August. Please take a moment to examine the following tips for a more earth-friendly approach.

Step 1: Take inventory of what you actually possess. Often, the supplies we have can be used again. Is there still life in that backpack, pencil case, or lunch bag? Did you only use 1/3 of that notebook last year? Do you have enough pens/pencils/crayons/glue or do you really need to buy more? If you do need more, is it necessary to get the package of 50 disposable pens or can you switch to three pens with re-fillable ink?

Step 2: Make a list of those items that you really need to get, i.e., the things you can’t start class without. You can always supplement later as you identify needs.

Step 3: Buy only what you need and be mindful about what you are putting in your cart. When possible, purchase items made from recycled materials—preferably post-consumer recycled. By buying recycled products, you are sending a message that you care about what the products are made of. The more people that buy recycled-product items, the greater the demand is and the more items companies will make from recycled materials! Even big-box stores sell paper, pencils, notebooks, binders and more made from recycled content if you look. Of course, remember to bring your re-usable shopping bag into the store!

The summer is a great time to get supplies for bringing your own lunch, whether to school or work. Don’t “brown bag” it! If you’re bringing your lunch, invest in a high-quality insulated lunch bag that you will want to bring with you. Insulated lunch bags come in many fun and interesting styles and designs these days.

If you’re using disposable plastic bags, now is the time to get reusable containers (metal, glass, or BPA-free plastic) or reusable bags. My family uses reusable sandwich and snack bags by brands such as Reuseit, LunchSkins, SnackTAXI, and Waste Not Saks. They are easy to wash and have proven to be incredibly durable after years of use.

Finally, if you do have any supplies that can’t be re-used, do your best to recycle them! By being mindful about your back-to-school shopping, you can do your little part to help the environment.

Submitted by Nadine Kadell Sapirman