Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Kristen Castillo

June 8, 2018 5 min read

Ready for back to school? It's time to fill backpacks with all the school tools children need for success. But before you buy new supplies, consider the environmental impact. Do you really need all new supplies? And if so, how environmentally friendly are these items?

"You can find everything from recycled pens and pencils to notebooks and even eco-friendly cardboard binders," says Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics.

*Reduce and Reuse

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, last year the average cost of back-to-school shopping for families with kids in elementary school or high school was $687.72. The total spend was projected to be $29.5 billion, with $4.9 billion of that spent on school supplies like pencils, backpacks, notebooks and folders.

Inventory your child's school supplies before going shopping for new ones.

"More often than not, the school supplies from the previous year will do just fine," says Backe, urging parents and kids to reuse existing old school supplies. "It's pretty rare that your child will use all the pages in their notebook, or pens or pencils."

Backe suggests teachers incentivize students to reuse old school supplies by giving them extra credit. The clean side of used copy paper is perfect for scratch paper, doodling and making to-do lists.

Reuse notebooks that still have blank pages. Rip pages out of a spiral notebook, trim the fringe and place the pages in a different binder for a fresh look.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery suggests only buying paper, pens and pencils made with recycled content. And when you need to buy new products, make sure they aren't sold with a lot of extra packaging. Whenever possible, reuse the packaging before recycling it.

*What's Old Is New

Approximately 60 million crayons are trashed every year. But there are ways to save the nonbiodegradable color sticks from the landfill.

Repurpose old, broken or unused crayons with this easy do-it-yourself project: Melt your old crayons into new ones. Break the used crayons into little pieces, then place those pieces into small silicone molds, such as ones meant to make candies. You can find silicone molds for sale online. Bake the bits for 10 to 15 minutes at 200 degrees. Let them cool and presto -- one-of-a-kind writing tools.

Get creative. You can use all the same color, such as various shades of green. Or consider mixing complementary or contrasting hues. Go for the rainbow!

Don't want to make your own crayons? Send them to The Crayon Initiative, a nonprofit that recycles crayons and gives them to hospitalized children for art projects.

The Crayon Initiative was started as a way to repurpose used restaurant crayons that would otherwise end up in the trash. So far, they've collected 18.9 million used crayons, from restaurants, schools and homes, which have benefitted sick kids at 120 children's hospitals.

Send them your old crayons here:

The Crayon Initiative

540 Glasgow Circle

Danville, CA 94526

*Green Swaps

When you purchase new supplies, choose quality items that are good for the earth.

Instead of using plastic sandwich bags, choose reusable ones. For example, Onya's Reusable Sandwich Wraps are made using up to four recycled plastic bottles. They're 100 percent vegan-friendly and have a fully food safe PEVA lining.

Bag brown bags, too. Instead invest in a sustainable lunch tote.

Instead of throwing away used glue containers, recycle them with Terracycle. The company recycles hard-to-recycle items like empty glue tubes and bottles, as well as food pouches, binders and more. Schools and other groups can order a zero-waste box to collect the items. The small box to collect glue containers is $80.

Don't buy new folders. If the ones you have are in good condition, simply print out new labels for the tabs.

Reuse last year's backpack or buy a new one that is made of ecofriendly materials. For example, EcoKids sells PVC-free bags featuring owls, pandas, monkeys and puppies. The fabric is made from recycled water bottles, while the buttons and buckles are created from recycled plastic parts and sustainable wood.

*Smart Shopping

According to Green Schools Initiative, there's no agency that certifies school supplies as sustainable. They recommend looking for items marked recyclable or reusable and those made with recycled content and remanufactured products. They also advise avoiding items made with phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) or PVC, all of which can be health hazards.

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