Reading, Writing and Recycling: Go Green Back to School

Back-to-school season is in full swing as an estimated 58 million students are preparing to hit the books this fall. Parents and kids all across the nation are shopping for clothes, shoes and supplies, looking for the best bang for their buck. However, one aspect shoppers may want to consider is how their shopping affects the environment. Buying environmentally friendly school supplies and packing eco-friendly lunches can go a long way toward conserving and protecting our planet’s resources.

Here are some tips to help guide you toward a more “green” back to school experience:

  • Buy 100 percent recycled paper and notebooks – be sure kids use both sides of the sheets whenever possible
  • Write with recycled pencils
  • Recycle while at school – Consider which trash can be saved from a landfill
  • Use refillable pens – each pen can last up to a decade

Small efforts can have big impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That means just one average-sized middle school creates more than 40,000 pounds of waste each year. Packing a waste-free lunch also saves an average student $250.

Here are some ways you can pack a more sustainable lunch this fall:

  • Adopt reusable bag practices – send lunch in a reusable bag instead of a paper or plastic one.
  • Purchase a refillable water bottle – it takes three times the amount of water that’s in a plastic water bottle to create the bottle in the first place.
  • Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers – consider perhaps a waxed fabric sandwich bag.
  • Compost peels and pits – some students have compost programs at their schools, but for those that don’t, encourage them to bring their apple cores and cherry pits home.

There are many other ways students – with the help of their teachers – can help reach environmental goals. If 133,000 schools switched to recycled paper, they could save about 6 million trees per year, according to The Green School Initiative. America’s schools spend more than $7.5 billion annually on energy – more than they spend on textbooks and computers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If school districts worked to conserve 25 percent of that energy, they could save $1.5 billion per year.

Students can also make change themselves by contributing toward green goals through programs such as Michigan Green Schools, which inspires schools to adopt more sustainable practices such as recycling, installing rain gardens and planting edible or native Michigan gardens. Applying to become a Michigan Green School can be pivotal in teaching the next generation essential green practices.

Our future depends on protecting the health and well-being of our children. Educating this generation with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face is just as important as educating them about math and history. It’s a substantial task to put on such young people, but each small step is one taken toward a more sustainable future.

Greenprint: Back-to-School Sustainably

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Back-to-school time can be exciting but also stressful when you’re staring down the lists of needed school supplies. According to the 2014 Google report card, back-to-school is now the second-largest retail event of the year. When making our purchases, several factors can come into play, like the latest trends or cost-saving, but now is the time to instill in our children – even college students – that sustainability should always play a key part in consumer decision-making.

  • First and foremost, take stock in what you have from the previous school year and try to reuse supplies as much as possible. The most important part of this action is to communicate with your kids about why it is important to reuse as much as possible. It not only saves your family money, but you’re helping consume less, which helps to protect the environment. Also consider donating any unwanted, lightly used school gear and/or winter wear to a local charity or school that accepts materials for the upcoming school year.
  • For any purchases you need to make, always consider the environmentally responsible goods first. Look for binders made from recycled plastic and notebooks made from recycled or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) paper. Below are key symbols to keep in mind:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 10.32.37 AMlogo - 100recycledmateriallogo - scs_certified  logo - FSClogo - scs_responsiblesource_fcp

 

  • Pack a sustainable lunch that focuses on reusable options. Check out the Detroit Zoological Society’s ZooperHero waste-free lunch guide.
  • If your home is not along the school bus route, or public transportation is not an option, consider setting up a car pool with other classroom parents or even a bike route.
  • Encourage your school to take up composting or to create a certified habitat. The National Wildlife Federation has a great certification program that also provides how-to-guides.

Please share your sustainable back-to-school photos in social media and tag @detroitzoo on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

– Beth Wallace