Friday, August 17, 2012

Making back-to-school eco-friendly

Whether or not you have kids heading back to school in September there is a good chance you’re stocking up on school or home office supplies now that it’s the end of the summer.

I used to love new school supplies and looked forward to opening new scribblers and buying fun pens, pencils and erasers. My kids are the same. But before we go out and buy new things we take inventory of what’s left over from last year. There are always duotangs, scribblers and binders that didn’t get used and our cupboard is full of perfectly good pens and pencils. By the time we check off what we already have at home we have usually made a good dent in assembling our kids’ supplies for the new school year.
(Rewind to June, a lot of very re-usable stuff often gets tossed at the end of the school year. I know it’s a bit of a pain to sort through stuffed knapsacks on the last day of school, but if you do a basic sort then, it isn’t as daunting to organize the reusable items come August. )
Reusing some of last year’s school supplies means that we can usually get our kids set for the new school year a little faster, and a lot more cheaply, than if we had to tackle the entire list from new. Plus, our kids still get to enjoy some brand new supplies and the excitement that comes with choosing them.
Another thing we have learned is that when it comes to knap sacs, you get what you pay for. We have gone through very inexpensive knap sacs in less than a year but have managed to hang onto knapsacks from L.L. Bean and Mountain Equipment Co-op for a few years now. If you find a durable brand it’s worth investing a bit.
When buying new items, there are ways to make back-to-school shopping a little more eco-friendly:
Look for pencils made from recycled newspaper rather than wood and pens made from recycled plastic (or refillable).
Look for PVC-free binders. (You’ll recognize PVC by its shower-curtain smell.) PVC off-gasses for ages and that unpleasant smell is toxic. Look for binders made from reinforced cardboard or kraft paper, or PVC-free polypropylene.
Crayola products get a good eco rating. They’re non-toxic, made in North America and the Crayola Company has been lauded for its use of solar and wind power at its production facilities.
Beware of Dollar Store crayons, markers and paints. Made off-shore, there are concerns with chemicals used to make these products, especially the chemicals used to formulate the colours.
Avoid any products that glow in the dark. The Toy Industry Association warns that the chemicals used to make things glow are known to be toxic.
Look for paper products made from post-consumer recycled content. From computer paper to loose leaf and scribblers, it’s getting easier to find materials with this kind of recycled symbol.  Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper products are your next best choice.

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