A Greener Back to School

I was never a huge fan of summer. It felt like too long of a break from a scheduled routine, a blank canvas that I must somehow fill when everyone is off doing their own things. The second I started seeing commercials for back to school, I was giddy with excitement. If that makes me a nerd, then I fully accept that.

I still get excited seeing all of the office supplies go on huge sales this time of year. Nothing beats the feeling of opening up a fresh new notebook or using some new pens, even if you still have plenty left over from last semester. Obviously in college we don’t have any sort of quotas for what we need, but nonetheless, if it’s on sale, why not? You never know if you might need those extra packages of note cards or post-it notes.

With the aisles filled with new products to get our hands on, folders and mechanical pencils and agendas galore, we might not consider the implications our consumerism this time of year may have. We get caught up in the buzzing activity and anticipation of a new season that we neglect to acknowledge that we still need to be conscious of the environment around us.

Because for many of us, we probably don’t need brand-new everything to start off the school year. We still have backpacks that work, notebooks with blank pages in them, pens with ink. If we automatically buy everything new each passing year, we build up clutter and, inevitably, litter. Not to mention the other green associated with back to school: the hundreds of dollars an average family spends to equip kids K-12, not including all of the college dorm supplies.

Especially for kids of a younger age stuck in a classroom with their peers, they are prone to feeling the pressure of fitting in, and a great way to do so (at least from what the commercials claim) is to have certain school supplies, sport some cool designs and characters, wear clothes from particular brands. Parents of course want what’s best for their kids, and if buying a little something that might score them some new connections and make the social aspects of school easier on them, it makes sense to cave in and buy that superhero or princess backpack.

There’s a reason besides the increased traffic for office goods that these products are cheap: they are frequently made to have a short lifespan, to keep us coming back even past the fall to restock on what we need. It’s an endless cycle of needing more.

The obvious answer to break that cycle is to actually use up what you already have. It might not look as flashy or brand-spankin’-new, but it serves the same function and saves you some money. Before thinking about heading out to shop for school, go through what you already have at home and make of list of what you actually need. Make that distinction of what you need and want. Chances are the cool things you want are just a passing trend that will be gone in a month anyways.

If you do need something new, opt for the greener options available. As the demand for more sustainable products increases, the prices will go down. No, they aren’t as cheap as the usual options, but in the long run, it’s worth it, especially if they will endure more wear and tear. You would also be surprised by how much younger people know about living an eco-friendly lifestyle, and they might even be the ones leading the charge into picking the sustainable pens and notebooks over the shiny plastic ones.

If they don’t know already, let’s make the effort to educate each other, regardless of age, as to what it means to live consciously. Going green shouldn’t feel like a punishment or a sacrifice if we understand why we are making these choices in the first place, whether that’s from growing landfills or awful working conditions.

The steps to take when going green this school year can be quite simple. Opt for reusable water bottles and lunch bags. Need new clothes? I’m all down to head over to the thrift store. Purchase items that are made with recycled materials, such as notebooks, filler paper, and pencils. Make use of last year’s backpack, pencil pouch, ruler, and whatever else you might own.

Also think about how you’re getting to and from school. Is there a bus system? Options for walking, cycling, or carpool with neighbors and friends? Or how about your school district’s incentives to recycle while in class? Is there any efforts to reduce energy consumption from the growing number of electronics in use? The details and potential areas of concern can really pile up like a landfill themselves, but you don’t have to do it all. Take baby steps. We all have to start somewhere. Then we can graduate onto more places we can reduce our carbon footprints and make the world a better place.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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