As a parent, I have found that somehow "starting something" seems to also mean "spending a lot of money." I remember how shocked I was with the cost of my son's first helmet for skating -- not to mention the skates, the skis and the karate classes. I am amazed that I ever balked at a monthly gym membership fee! I also now understand why my mother complained about buying me a new geometry set every year.
Gearing up for school (literally and figuratively) can be stressful and expensive. By being smart, a.k.a. "green," you can take away a lot of the running around stress and certainly save plenty of your hard earned dollars and your health, too, now and throughout the year.
1. Pens and Pencils
Attention all pen chewers! (And anyone who holds their pens or pencils in their bare hands). Steer clear of pens in plastic casings and uncertified pencils as many contain harmful substances. Instead, choose pens with wood or biodegradable casings, and certified non-toxic pencils, both made from responsible and/or recycled materials in kind factories.
2. Unbleached Paper
It takes some serious chemicals to turn natural wood pulp into an ultra-white paper, even chemicals known to cause cancer. Staples has a great 100 per cent recycled paper produced without chlorine or chlorine compounds that's FSC certified and acid-free.
3. Safe Crayons
The major brands of crayons are made from pigment and paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of petroleum, and many have even been found to contain asbestos! Clementine's Colouring "rocks" are made from U.S.-grown soy beans and coloured with natural mineral pigments. They were originally designed by an occupational therapist to help kids develop fine motor skills and prepare fingers and hands for writing.
An environmentally-hazardous plastic, PVC (polyvinyl chloride a.k.a. vinyl), can be found in shoes, boots, supplies and even in backpacks. If you are in need of new backpacks, ensure they are PVC-free and manufactured responsibly -- there are easily accessible options on the market. Google is your best friend for this, or ask your retailer. If they don't know what you are talking about, suggest they look into it too! Two great options include MEC and Beatrix.
5. PVC-free Binders, Erasers and More
The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) wants you to keep the poison plastic off your back to school shopping list too, and they've created this PVC-free school guide to help. It's full of PVC-free brands and where you can go to find them.
6. Organic Threads
Make sure you're sending your kids to school in an outfit that's truly clean. Did you know it takes almost one-third of a pound of chemicals (synthetic fertilizers) to grow enough cotton for just one t-shirt? Many of which we have yet to discover the long term effects, so let's use the knowledge we do have to buy and choose the best for their health and future.
7. Reusable Water Bottle
Buying bottled water is incredibly wasteful, expensive, and simply terrible for us all. Instead, fill and refill a reusable non-toxic, BPA free and phthalate-free stainless steel or glass water bottle with any of your favourite healthy hydrators. Klean Kanteen for stainless and Lifefactory for glass are two great picks.
8. Organic Lunch Bag
We get so wrapped up in what we're going to put into our kids' lunch bags that it's easy to overlook the bag itself. Tests have found disturbing amounts of lead in the linings of vinyl lunchboxes (that's right next to your food)! There are beautiful options too -- like Keep Leaf's Insulated Lunch Bag made from 100 per cent organic cotton canvas, and Fluf's hemp and organic cotton options. They are both durable, adorable, and easy to clean.
9. Reusable Food Baggies
Single-use zipper baggies are a giant waste of money, and are detrimental to aquatic life (where they inevitably end up). Thank goodness there's something safer, reusable, and better looking! Neat-os are made in the U.S., certified food-safe, bpa-free, phthalate-free, pvc-free, lead-free, and can be personalized with your own designs. Problem solved!
10. Stainless Steel Insulated Food Jar
Make sure your lunch containers aren't leaching nasties into your healthy homemade lunches. Get a stainless steel insulated food jar (no plastic!). They are safe, lightweight and durable.
11. Ice Pack
Because kids will put almost anything in their mouths, don't confuse them by putting something poisonous in their lunch bag! Choose a non-toxic ice pack for your kids' meals on the go, and it can even be used on boo-boos.
12. Utensil Set
Say "oh no" to toxic, single-use plastic utensils and invest in a safe reusable set made from sustainable materials. Send your kids off with bamboo utensils from To-Go Ware in their carry case made from recycled plastic bottles which keeps them together and clean. They're heat and stain resistant too. Ready to dig in when you are!
13. Hand Sanitizer
Many anti-bacterial soaps not only remove the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria that helps defend our body from the truly harmful ones. So for those times when soap and water aren't readily available, make sure to use something that is safe AND effective. Rather than spray something that leaves you feeling like you just doused yourself in harsh chemicals, opt for something that will rid germs safely.
There are few things more exciting than opening your lunch box and finding cookies! But only when those sweet treats are made with real, whole ingredients our bodies recognize and happily accept (NOT white, processed flour and sugar, butter and factory farmed eggs!). Sweets from the Earth cookies are not only made with gmo-free, 100 per cent plant based ingredients, but they are nut-free, which is essential when sending treats to school. It's what's NOT in them that will impress you even more (artificial flavors and processed junk) -- and your kids will love every bite!
15. Safe Sounds
Listening to music stimulates our kiddies growing brains, and it should definitely be encouraged. But with all the sounds from the bus and screaming kids, it's easy to turn up the volume enough to actually cause permanent hearing loss. House of Marley makes noise isolating earbuds from recycled and sustainable materials that are perfect for listening to your jams safely on the bus.
As you go in and out for your back-to-school prep, remember the most important rule: use what you have already. Less will be in your cart and dollars won't fly out of your wallet. Buying less keeps you at the head of the class. And, although the stores may not be happy, the world thanks you too.
According to the EPA, school buses drive 25 million students about four billion miles every year in America. With all that stop-and-go, lots of fuel is burned every day. Check to see if your child's bus is a newer bus that meets higher emissions standards, or if it is an old diesel bus that needs to follow stricter green standards. For more information, look at the EPA's Clean School Bus campaign to learn more about greener bussing.
How many of us throw out perfectly good notebooks because the first few pages were filled, or buy a new pencil box because the old one is no longer in style? Before going back-to-school shopping, take an inventory of what you already have and craft a shopping list around things that are really needed. Rip out the used notebook pages, and reuse it for a different class, or make a project of decorating the old pencil box with your child. Both will be good as new!
After you've done your inventory, take your child shopping for recycled, renewable school supplies. Many major retailers, including Target and Office Depot, carry recycled notebooks, and Paper Mate has come out with a line of biodegradable pencils.
Backpacks can not only be harmful to the environment, but to your child's health as well. The Daily Green cited a University of Michigan study saying 60% of teens and preteens (12-18 years old) suffer chronic back pain. Ease your child's burden by purchasing an eco-friendly backpack that is padded and well suited for their size. Check out The Ultimate Green Store or Ecocentric Bags for ideas!
If your child brings a lunch from home, try packing food in reusable containers. Snack Taxi is a great resource for many types of reusable packages, or just send Tupperware and mason jars in place of baggies.
Instead of sending your kids to school with disposable utensils, try packing bamboo cutlery (like these RePEaT sets from To-Go Ware).
A great way to start the school year is to get your kid excited about healthy eating. Sit down together and make a list of your child's favorite healthy foods, including some fun recipes you can make together for easy weekday dinners. Pack fruits and vegetables that are in season, paying particular attention to which foods have high uses of pesticides, and make sure to include plenty of different colors and tastes!
It's no surprise that kids should be drinking water instead of sugary drinks throughout the day, but sending them to school with disposable plastic bottles is not the way to go, says the Mother Nature Network. Instead, invest in a BPA-free reusable bottle. Whether your child prefers aluminum or plastic, reusable water bottles can be an eco-friendly, stylish way to send your child to school. Check out Good Housekeeping's list of the best BPA-free bottles.
If your child's school does not offer bus service, or you opt out of it, there are a number of eco-friendly transportation options. Older kids can ride a bike if you live near the school (and the path consists only of safe roads!). For the younger kids, a morning walk can be a lovely way to bond with your child. Is school too far to walk or bike? Contact the administration to see if any other students live nearby, and get in touch with local parents about participating in a carpool.
Growing kids need new clothes pretty often, and throwing away old duds is a huge waste. Why not organize a neighborhood clothing swap, or donate old clothes to Goodwill? Replace these pieces with affordable, eco-friendly styles. Some retailers include H&M, which sells organic and recycled children's clothing, and Nike, who recently unveiled an eco-friendly shoe collection just in time for the London 2012 Olympics.
Make informed decisions when it comes to buying safe plastic-alternative school supplies.
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