Friday, September 3, 2010

Reusing is my key to back-to-school sanity

The end of summer is one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year, second only to Christmas. It’s a time when people shop for back-to-school clothes and supplies, whether school is part of their life or not. In the rush to get organized for September people often buy more than they need, which leads to an oversized carbon footprint for the season.

I know that back-to-school shopping has been underway since mid-August (earlier for many) but in our household we hardly give it a thought before September 1st. It’s not that we’re disorganized, it’s because there isn’t much that needs buying. We have simplified the whole process using two principles: reduce and reuse.

Last year we turned school supply shopping into a speedy, one-stop exercise simply by reusing school supplies from the previous year. This is our new back-to-school routine: In early September we sift through the pile of duotangs and such that came home from school in June to see what’s salvageable. We sharpen used pencils, gather last year’s erasers and scissors and dig out the few Hilroy notebooks that didn’t get used last year. With luck all we’ll have to buy this year are a few glue sticks, some loose leaf and a couple of packages of Hilroy Notebooks.

Back-to-school clothes shopping is even easier. It involves hauling out all of our children’s fall and winter clothes to see what fits, and then deciding what we need to buy before the snow flies. We’re never rushed to go shopping for fall clothes on warm, sunny August or September days especially since our kids likely won’t wear much of it until cooler weather hits in October.

If you have yet to finish (or start!) your back-to-school shopping, here are a few tips to make it a bit more eco-friendly and healthy:

• Do an at-home inventory before you shop so you can focus on what you actually need. This goes for clothes as well as school supplies.

• Consider second hand stores for your first round of shopping. When our children need pants we always shop at Value Village. They have a good selection of children’s clothes and they’re well-organized on racks, meaning we can be in and out in about fifteen minutes.

• When you buy new clothes wash them at least once before wearing. New clothes can be chemically treated with formaldehyde so they have a wrinkle-resistant sheen. That “new clothes” look you love can be toxic, especially for children. (Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.)

• When buying school or home office supplies look for those made from recycled materials. Staples carries a variety of products, from pens and pencils to duotangs and computer paper made from recycled or reclaimed materials. Naturally for Life – the eco store, carries some too.

• Use this September as a launch pad for packing a litter-less lunch. Use reusable containers, stainless-steel cutlery, cloth napkins and refillable drink containers to eliminate waste from your family’s lunches.

Reducing and reusing can be your keys to shopping sanity throughout the year.

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