The Sustainable Guide to Back to School Shopping

Does anyone else ever think every fall of the old Staples commercial set to Andy Williams’s It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year? It’s a perfect 30 second spot – the downtrodden kids walking through the store, the downright giddy dad pouring pencils into the cart, the almost maniacal voice-over. We love it not just because it has an amazing premise; we love it because no matter who you are, kid or adult, the feelings are so relatable. Even kids who love school don’t want to go back. Parents who love having their kids home every day in the summer look forward to a couple of hours where the schedule is set. And most parents can immediately drum-up feelings and memories of being a kid going to the local superstore to stock up on school supplies. 

As relatable as the commercial is, one of the things that sticks out to a 2019 viewer is just how much stuff the dad is chucking into his cart. Look at that guy go! Do they really need another stapler? Do they really need two of them? At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, isn’t the dad being just a tad bit…wasteful? We think he can do better – he just needed a plan. So, let’s attack back to school shopping like a sustainability project. Like any good project, a sustainable approach to back to school shopping starts with a good plan. 

Do a School Day Consumption Audit

The first thing to do is to figure out what your child needs throughout her day. The school probably gave you a list of things they’ll need. So, start there. Then, combine that list with the things you know she needs that the school hasn’t thought about. You’re a seasoned, professional parent! You know what she does and what she needs. So start with when she wakes up and go until you tuck her in at night. She’s going to need a lot of stuff, but the good news is you probably don’t need to buy most of it. 

Re-use Wherever Possible

Of the three Rs, reduce is the most important. If we want our back-to-school shopping to be sustainable, we have to try to buy the least amount of new stuff we can. You probably got a materials list from your child’s school. Go through that list first and see what you already have in the house. A lightly used #2 writes just as well as a brand new one. A hundred page spiral notebook with a few pages torn out of the front will work just fine. Maybe she’s outgrown her soccer cleats, but you might be able to squeeze one more year out of the shin guards. Her backpack from last year might be Descendants-themed, but you’re in luck: Descendents 3 came out just last month! It’s still cool! Being sustainable is about reducing first. The less you buy, the less ends up in a landfill. And, it’s cheaper! Don’t just go to the store and fill up a cart – chances are, you’re already halfway through your list, and you haven’t bought anything yet.

Make Small Changes that Have an Oversized Impact

Personal sustainability is all about micro changes. So take a look at your list and see what you use that can be replaced with a sustainable equivalent. Lose the paper bags and find a good, insulated lunchbox. Replace your single use plastic bags with reusable containers or silicone bags. Buy snacks in bulk and portion them out while watching Call the Midwife on Sunday. These types of changes are both sustainable and big money savers. A little bit of planning and slight change in routine is all it takes.

Go Shop in Good Cheer!

Now that you’ve culled the list to only the necessities, it’s time to head to the store! Reward yourself with a bag of peanut M&Ms! After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! And good on you – you’ve just made it better for you and the world around you.

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