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Low-Waste Back to School: Smart, Sustainable + Green

The back-to-school season, often marked by a shopping frenzy, holds immense potential for choosing sustainability. As our students gear up for the new year, making eco-conscious choices can significantly reduce the environmental footprint of school-related purchases. From backpacks to notebooks, every item has a sustainable alternative.

Choosing low-waste options minimizes landfill contributions and reduces the strain on our planet’s resources. By prioritizing sustainable choices during this period, we educate the younger generation about environmental responsibility and drive demand for more eco-friendly products in the market, pushing brands towards greener practices.

Opting for low-waste alternatives during back-to-school shopping plays a pivotal role in fostering a sustainable future. So, where to start? We’ve got some ideas, and we’re here to help. 

Choosing second-hand items isn’t just about saving a few bucks (although that’s a definite perk); it’s about making a conscious choice for the environment, your pocket and a flair for unique finds.

Save Some Green: Buying second-hand can save you significant money; you can get some serious quality items at a fraction of the original cost.

Love Your Mother: Opting for pre-loved goods reduces the demand for new products, decreasing the strain on natural resources, energy consumption, and waste production.

Uniquely You: Second-hand markets are treasure troves of unique, vintage, and rare items unavailable in mainstream stores, allowing our kiddos to express their distinctive style. Shine on, future leaders.

So, where do we find these treasures?

  • Thrift Stores: These beloved local hubs have a vast range of pre-loved goods, from clothing to home decor. Some of our local Vancouver (and surrounding) faves include SCRAP PDX, Once Upon A Child, Denim & Frills, and Schoolhouse Supplies
  • Online Platforms: Websites like eBay, ThredUp, and Poshmark provide an extensive range of second-hand items catering to various tastes. Many of these platforms also offer the chance to trade in items that no longer fit, offering you credit on new goods and even more savings! 
  • Community Swaps: A sustainable way to refresh one’s wardrobe or home by exchanging items with community members, promoting a circular economy. Gather with some other local families for a clothing swap, ask your buy-nothing group for what you need, check out any swaps that might be happening around you - and, if you’d like to organize one, let us know!

Wear, Repair, Repurpose

In today’s fast-paced, disposable culture, the art of repairing often takes a backseat. Yet, simple sewing skills can revolutionize how we view our possessions, especially essentials like school uniforms and backpacks. Mending worn-out attire or fixing a tear in a bag can save money, reduce waste, and promote sustainability.

By mastering basic sewing techniques, parents and students can prolong the life of school uniforms, ensuring they last multiple academic years. This preserves the familiarity and comfort of well-worn clothes and reduces the need for frequent replacements. Similarly, backpacks, often subjected to daily wear and tear, can see an extended lifespan with timely stitches and patchwork.

The benefits of this art extend beyond the tangible. Repairing fosters a sense of responsibility towards our belongings, encouraging a culture of care rather than disposal. Furthermore, it nurtures creativity as patches and stitches can be seen as an expression of individuality, turning a simple mend into a fashion statement.

In essence, embracing the art of repairing is a nod to sustainability and personal creativity, teaching the next generation the value of preservation over wastefulness.

If you’re not sure where to start with mending, here are a few resources for you:

  • Join Our Mending Circle! Kindred hosts a free mending circle once a month! We have loads of communal supplies for you to use, and folks of all ages and abilities join us. We sit around the table and stitch away, enjoying conversation and community-building. We would love to have you join us. No experience necessary!
  • Visible Mending: Looking for a bit of inspiration? In addition to carrying books on Visible Mending, we love the Instagram pages of VisibleMend and Bookhou for inspo on this beloved craft. 
  • Call On A Professional: Not feeling up to the DIY? Just over the bridge in Portland is a lovely little business, Village Mending. Starting at $25, Elise can help mend your items for you!
  • Tan France Knows Best: Tan France is known to say, “Make your tailor your best friend” and we couldn’t agree more. Our bodies are in constant flux - especially as we’re growing up. Rather than tossing and buying new, find a trusted resource to help alter your favorite items.

Reducing Waste with DIY School Supplies

Notebooks and Binders: Use cardboard or old book covers to craft personalized notebooks. For pages, repurpose unused sheets from old diaries or printers. Decorate with fabric scraps or hand-drawn designs for a personal touch.

Pencil Cases and Pouches: Convert old t-shirts or denim jeans into stylish pencil cases. Not only are they unique, but they also reduce textile waste.

Book Covers: Instead of buying plastic book covers, wrap books in cut-out brown grocery bags. Kids can then personalize them with drawings, stickers, or stamps.

Reusable Snack Bags: Ditch single-use plastic bags. Instead, sew snack pouches using cloth or upcycle old zip-lock bags by decorating them. If you’re not feeling crafty, we also sell these in store.

Desk Organizers: Use toilet paper rolls or old jars to create desk organizers for pens, pencils, and other stationery. You know we love to reuse old jars.


Reducing Waste Through Digital Solutions

Our choices regarding our tech and gadgets play a pivotal role in our environmental footprint. Adopting eco-responsible digital habits can significantly reduce waste and ensure a sustainable future.

Paper Reduction: Embracing digital notes, books, and documents can drastically reduce paper consumption. Not only does this save trees, but it also reduces the energy and resources spent on printing, shipping, and disposing of paper products.

Less Physical Clutter: Digital subscriptions, streaming services, and software downloads minimize the need for physical CDs, DVDs, books, and other tangible goods, reducing manufacturing and disposal costs.

Reduced Carbon Footprint: Digital products don’t need to be shipped, stored, or disposed of, resulting in fewer carbon emissions than their physical counterparts.

Maximizing the Life of Tech Gadgets and Devices

Maintenance: Regularly updating and cleaning devices can help them run more efficiently and prolong their lifespan. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? We’re not just talking about those annoying updates on your laptop. Keep your keyboards and screens clean, give your equipment time to cool off, and turn it off when not in use.

Repairs over Replacements: Instead of discarding malfunctioning gadgets, consider repairing them. A simple fix can often give a device several more years of life.

Mindful Purchasing: Invest in high-quality gadgets built to last rather than opting for disposable or short-lived tech. We know that the price tag can hurt a little, but it’s definitely worth it. And keep in mind that refurbished items are always an option! These can be much lower in price and still have lots of life left. 

Recycling E-Waste Responsibly

Dispose Responsibly: E-waste often contains harmful chemicals. Disposing of it irresponsibly can lead to these chemicals leaching into the environment. Instead, look for E-Waste Collection Centers. Please don’t toss your old electronics in the trash; take them to dedicated e-waste collection or recycling centers where they can be safely dismantled and repurposed. This is as easy as taking them to our transfer stations in Vancouver. We are also big fans of Earth- Friendly Recycling, a local recycling in East Vancouver. In addition to electronics, they accept styrofoam!

Tech Company Initiatives: Many tech companies now offer recycling programs for their products. Before disposing of a device, check if the manufacturer has a take-back or recycling initiative. 

Creating a Sustainable School Routine

Fostering an eco-friendly lifestyle goes beyond just the home. Integrating sustainable habits into our daily school routine can significantly positively impact the environment. Here’s how students and families can contribute to a greener planet.

Packing Low-Waste Lunches

Reusable Containers: Opt for BPA-free containers and cloth pouches instead of disposable bags and plastic wraps. They’re not only eco-friendly but also cost-effective in the long run.

Reduce Processed Foods: Pre-packaged snacks often come with excessive packaging. Consider homemade alternatives or buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste.

Utensils: If you can’t use metal utensils, we love these kits from Target

Using Sustainable Transport

Walking & Cycling: These zero-emission methods are great for the environment and beneficial for our health. They can be viable options if the school is within a reasonable distance.

Carpooling: Share rides with neighbors or friends. It’s an effective way to reduce individual car emissions, reduce traffic, and save on fuel.

Public Transport: Encourage students to use buses, trains, or trams. It reduces the number of vehicles on the road and the overall carbon footprint.

Kids, Climate Anxiety, and the Power of Sustainability Education

In today’s world, it’s not just adults who are grappling with the looming threat of climate change; our children are feeling its weight too. Reports and discussions on global warming, extreme weather events, and subsequent crises often pervade the media they consume, leading to a sense of dread and anxiety among the younger generation.

This climate anxiety in kids is real. They often feel helpless, fearing for their future on a rapidly changing planet. But, instead of shielding them from these realities, we can empower them through education and action.

Sustainable Learning: Introducing sustainability as a part of their education can be transformative. Children who understand the science behind climate change are better equipped to discern fact from fiction. More importantly, when they learn about sustainable practices, they realize there are actionable steps everyone can take to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Involvement in Sustainable Practices: Beyond learning, actively engaging kids in sustainable activities can be therapeutic. Planting trees, participating in local clean-ups, or even starting a school garden can make them feel part of the solution, easing the sense of helplessness.

Open Conversations: Providing a brave space for kids to express their fears and concerns about climate change is essential. These conversations can help them process their feelings, understand the broader picture, and identify ways they can contribute positively.

Encourage Advocacy: Many children and young adults are leading in climate activism. Encouraging them to voice their concerns, join youth-led movements, or even discuss these issues with their peers can instill a sense of purpose.

While the dread kids feel about climate change is valid, involving them in sustainability efforts and education can be the balm to their anxieties. It equips them with knowledge and empowers them to believe that their actions, no matter how small, can contribute to a brighter, more sustainable future.

Here’s how some schools are making strides toward a greener tomorrow:

  • Eco Clubs: By establishing eco-clubs, schools create a platform for students to engage in sustainable projects. These clubs are pivotal in raising awareness and instilling eco-friendly values, teaching students the significance of making environmentally sound choices.
  • Reduce Paper Waste: The digital age presents an opportunity for schools to transition away from traditional paper-based systems. By leveraging digital platforms for communication and assignments, educational institutions can drastically reduce paper consumption, leading to environmental and economic benefits.
  • Green Campuses: Beyond educating, physically adapting the school environment can make a difference. Initiatives like creating green spaces, setting up rainwater harvesting systems, and incorporating solar panels ensure the campus operates sustainably. These measures conserve resources and provide practical examples for students to understand the importance of eco-friendly infrastructural choices.

If you have the bandwidth, ask some questions of your kiddos school administrators. How are they reducing their waste? Are they educating our kiddos and offering them a space to talk and learn about these things? What do they need to establish some of these things? How can we, as a community, come together to support them?

Creating a sustainable school routine isn’t just about individual choices; it’s a collective effort. Combining personal actions and pushing institutions to adopt greener practices, we can ensure our daily education journey leaves a minimal carbon footprint.

We hope you’re ready to start this academic year with sustainability at the forefront, making informed and impactful choices. Together, we can make a difference one eco-friendly choice at a time.

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