Going back to school doesn’t have to take its toll on the environment. In fact, it can be a great “lesson plan” for your kids to learn a little more about staying kinder to our earth.

Here are seven ways to get your kids involved in an eco-friendly approach to back to school.

Go wasteless

It’s often been touted to go for a waste-free lunch, but it’s also pretty easy to buy pre-packed snacks with loads of waste and throw them in the lunch box. Instead, opt for making your own snacks at home, then portion them into serving sizes and put them in reusable containers. Try making a snack mix of seeds (often safe for nut-free schools), cacao nibs (for a little fun), dried fruit (such as cherries, apples, and raisins) to keep your kids energized through recess.

Check out the FSC

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies wood and paper products that are grown in forests and are responsibly managed. They put a label on their items, so you can look for that when you’re out getting your kids’ supplies.

Back away from the bulk

We sure do love shopping at wholesale stores, but is your kid really going to go through 30 pens, 50 pencils, and a three-pack of pencil sharpeners through the year? Chances are, they won’t. Unless you’re supplying for many, a lot of items just need a few to last them. They don’t really need the 48 pack of markers (8 tend to still be classic and, yep, just work fine), and the pens? Generally the more in the pack there are, the lesser they are in quality. Look for refillable pencils, bulk up on necessary items only, try to go paper-free using a laptop or tablet, and estimate what you’re really use. More isn’t always better.

Head to the market

When purchasing produce and other foodstuffs for school lunches and snacks, source out locals who can help you. Head to the market for your fresh produce and, often, meats, eggs, and dairy. It is still summer weather in most parts, with lots of farmers still growing. Support community members who run local stores, shops, and small business who sell snack-like items for packing for your kids. Or, if they live close, have them ride their bike home at lunch for a home cooked meal.

Speaking of riding the bike

If you live close enough to the school and in a safe neighbourhood, have your kids walk or ride their bikes to school. Getting some fresh air and exercise will not only get them moving for the day, but sharpen their budding brains to focus on the classwork for the day. If these aren’t options, consider carpooling with parents or using public (or school-based private, such as bus) transportation. If you’re going the public route and your child is young, there is no reason you can’t tag along for the ride.

But if the bus is the option…

There is a new initiative run by the Environmental Protection Agency called Clean School Bus, a national, innovative program designed to help communities reduce emissions from older diesel school buses. According to the EPA, school buses travel about four billion miles each year, and more than 25 million American students ride a school bus every day. These buses provide the safest transportation for getting children to and from school. Since many older school buses emit harmful diesel exhaust, they are building a program to reduce these ways that impact the environment, and our health. Check it out and get your school involved.

Don’t get a whole new wardrobe

It isn’t necessary to deck them fully out in new clothes, but a few essential items, especially for growing kids, is, well, essential. Don’t throw away old clothes — it is a huge waste — instead, consider donating them to a local shelter, selling them at a garage sale, or organize a family/friend/neighbourhood clothing swap. When shopping for new clothes, opt for retailers with organic and recycled clothing.

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