There can be so much waste involved in buying school and college supplies. In our house we do our best to keep it as low as possible by reusing, buying second-hand or buying fully recyclable / compostable / refillable items. Here’s how we do it.
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Personally I take the list of school supplies as a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule. I replace plastic folders with paper ones and buy less than requested. Having volunteered in schools before I’ve notice how much excess there is partially because parents are encouraged to buy replacements ahead of time. If my kids need a replacement I’ll buy it there and then, I’m not going to frontload school supplies on the off-chance that they’ll be needed.
Thankfully this year I’ve very little to buy but if you’re in the market for back-to-school supplies you might want to check out some planet positive supplies from two one of my favourite companies; Klee Paper and Jiminy.ie They stock a range of refillable, toxin-free, recycled stationary items that are more sustainable than what you’ll find on the high street and at very competitive prices too.
When ordering books I try to buy second-hand, which is why I generally order from book stores that offer that option. You can find a list of such stores in my article Second-hand Stores in Ireland.
I also don’t get books covered in plastic. In my experience books are revised too regularly for the plastic covering to offer any sort of increased longevity. Finally if I’ve time I’ll visit the store in person, it saves on packaging – and money – required to delivery the order.
When it comes to copy books I ignore all brands and aim to only buy Ashling. They make copy books in Europe with solvent free, water based ink on paper sourced from sustainable European forests. They also have little money back coupons on the back of them, which schools can cash-in. For some reason their web address is not working. I hope they’re not going bust!
Despite pleas from my kids to buy a new backpack every year, I don’t. There’s no need if you buy one that lasts like the black Gola backpack I bought for my daughter 3 years ago. When opting for backpacks I prefer darker colours because they show less wear and tear.
Since buying my daughters backpack I’ve learned that Irish company Sporthouse offer a lifetime guarantee for manufacturing defects, but will also repair your bag is it gets damaged. I’m not sure if repairs for wear and tear are free.
I know someone who sent their Jansport backpack back to America for repair for €6.50 and got a replacement for free because it was beyond repair. Alternatively a friend of mine had hers repaired at the cobbler on Charlemount St, Isaac Jackman. I haven’t heard of anyone availing of the Zip it warranty as of yet.
Last year I really struggled last year for my son but eventually found a backpack made from recycled polyester in Patagonia, on sale! I nearly kissed it when I found it. I’ve also published a list of companies that offer Sustainable Ethical Bags, some of which are backpacks so check that out before you buy.
Charity shops are also a great source of backpacks. I’ve seen practically brand new ones for sale in there for a few euros.
Lunch can be a bit of a waste nightmare but there are ways and means around it. I love an initiative in some schools, whereby kids get homework passes for having packaging free lunches! Rewards for living lightly? Bring it on I say. This year I’m not signing my kids up for milk in school. That’s two less cartons and straws in the world.
For health reasons rather than environmental reasons I purchased two new stainless steel water bottles for my kids at the Eden project in Cornwall, this summer. It’s a personal choice to avoid plastic near our food and it’s a slow transition because the stainless steel alternatives aren’t cheap. You can get lovely stainless steel lunch boxes and bottles from Amazon but there is now a whole host of Irish based suppliers. Check out my list of Sustainable e-tailers and Map of Eco-Businesses for info
If your kids are older they might be able to handle having their lunch wrapped Furoshiki style. I love this simple video from a website selling stainless steel lunch boxes. The video shows a stainless steel lunchbox being used but I think it’d work just as well with an unwrapped roll or sandwich. There’s a very simple video on how to wrap your Zero Waste lunch on Bea Johnson YouTube channel. Alternatively a simple draw-string cotton bag would work just as well.
As I alluded to above I try to get my kids uniforms at the uniform swap run by the Parents Association every year. It saves me a fortune but they don’t always have what I want so the next stop is the charity shop and then after that it’s buying bit and pieces in high-street stores. I’ve come across uniforms for sale second-hand on adverts.ie, or similar, and I’ve seen local uniform exchange groups on Facebooks. There’s also a dedicated pre-owned uniform site in Ireland now, called Skool Stuff and a few uniform selling and swapping platforms like Schooly, and if you can’t find what you need pre-owned UK company Eco Outfitters offers more sustainable options for uniform items. If you need sportwear then check out Clubby
If I have to buy something that comes in a non-recyclable package or with a non-recyclable hanger I simply drop these back to the store. If they can’t be bothered to offer recyclable packaging and I’ve no option but to buy it, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one that puts it in the bin.
I find schools a minefield when it comes to waste; some of it is unavoidable but a lot could be. If you’re interested in learning how your school could become more sustainable check out my article Sustainable Schools
PS – You might also be interested in my article on Raising Zero Waste Kids