Back to school the eco-friendly way!

The most eco-friendly product is the one that already exists. If we have to buy new, we try and choose long-lasting products, made locally from natural or recycled materials.

How to apply these earth-loving approaches to back to school?

The booklist - colouring

We got our first ever book list this year. It started with, "Twistables or markers". I thought to myself, "We can do better than that!"

Kids with plastic-free colouring pencilsColouring pencils or crayons are just as effective. They're a little cheaper (and many families have them already). They're plastic-free. They don't get jammed. They don't crack when stepped on. They don't dry out if you leave the top off. You could get 8 years of primary school out of 1 pack of good colouring pencils!

I messaged the teacher to say this and that I'll be sending our daughter with pencils. And I asked why she thought most primary teachers request the plastic-encased options.

She responded, "Colouring pencils are absolutely fine. It’s good for you to bring awareness of the use of plastic in the other options. I think teachers like the effect the other things give and some pencils always break so there is lots of paring involved." All I know is, our daughter can pare her own pencils and enjoys doing it :-)

Plastic-free stationery is easy - even plastic-free highlighters! See here.

The booklist - books

Second-hand isn't always workable for school books but it's worth a quick check of these online second-hand school book sellers:

  • OpeningMinds.ie and also the Book Haven - where you can buy a mixture of new and second-hand books instantly online, and sell your used school books back to them
  • The Book Market in Clonmel - you can submit your booklist and they'll let you know what they have - they also supply new and second hand
  • SchoolDays.ie - where you buy directly from other parents (and can sell your used books also). Many of the books offered are second-hand but unused! 

Do you know of any schools that rent the books to you - so that they can keep them for next year?

Schoolbags and lunch

Reuse is the best! Can your child reuse last year's bag and lunchbox? Can you replace any disposables with reusables, like:

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Reusable sandwich bag or wrap
  • A sturdy lunchbox that will last till 6th class
  • A strong, washable school bag / sports bag that will last till 6th class. E.g.:
    • Sporthouse is an Irish company making bags here with a lifetime guarantee
    • Duc is an Irish company making bags responsibly in Vietnam from recycled plastic fibres
    • We stock organic fairtrade cotton backpacks and textile crayons to make them your own! They're bigger than A4 size but not very wide - fine for sports gear or as a schoolbag for the first few years of school, but not for when they have more books

    Uniforms and sports gear

    Your community, WhatsApps groups, and school might guide you to a second-hand uniform, but if not, check listings for your school on SchoolDays.ie.

    Need a badminton racket, a hurl, or other sports gear? Have you checked Adverts.ie? It's 99% full of good people selling-on good things they no longer need. Or put an 'ISO' (in search of) post in Zero Waste Freecycle Ireland Facebook group - you'll be surprised how often you'll get exactly what you need for free from someone glad to clear space at home.

    COVID-19 and back to school

    Helpful updates and guidelines on SchoolDays.ie here. If your child or teachers needs a mask please encourage reusables. If they need face coverings, there are plastic-free options available, e.g., from EcoStraws.ie

    New start, new things?

    For some families, getting a new bag or new lunchbox is part of making back-to-school more exciting and positive...or a reward for the child being brave. Is there a special experience you could offer instead? Let the child choose something special they'd like to do with you after their first day or first week? Just a thought :-)

    Other 'new school year' resolutions

    • Could you walk, scoot, cycle or car-share more this year? Even 1 day a week to start?

    Ideas for school leadership, teachers, and parents' associations:

    • Reusable kids' tableware to borrow for parties to reduce wasteHow many birthday parties will happen in your school community this year? Using non-compostable disposables, each will generate 1 landfill bag of rubbish. Now imagine they all use a reusable kit that lives at school reception. It has 30 sets of sturdy tableware. They book it, take it, wash-use-wash, and return. Maybe they pay a nominal fee to a school or charity fund. See our resources to help at www.RainbowRentals.ie 
    • Has your school earned all its awards from Green Schools yet?
    • Some schools have banned single-use plastic bottles, like Newpark in Dublin
    • Plastic-Free 4 Schools / Plastic-Free 4 Kids has a series of practical and inspiring videos on YouTube, would be great to watch as a class then discuss actions
    • New sports team strip needed? They're all made of plastic so might as well get one that's recycled plastic from Irish company Wolfhound and Elk

    Questions for you:

    1. How can we encourage every school's policies to drive eco-friendly choices across their community? E.g., for every teacher to put affordable, eco-friendly options like pencils on their booklist instead of plastic?
    2. What are your other tips for eco-friendly back to school?

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