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Back to school the eco-friendly way!

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

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 school supplies list - colouring

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...don't crack when stepped on...and 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'd 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 :-)

And the good news is, the next year the booklist just said, "colours".

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


Schoolbags and lunch

Can your child reuse last year's bag and lunchbox? If they need repair, check our repair hacks! FixIts and Sugru are both food-safe (Sugru is dishwasher-able, FixIts are not).

If you need new ones, try and get them "unused pre-loved" - from charity shops / Adverts / local Freecycle groups. 

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.:
      • Duc is an Irish company making bags responsibly in Vietnam from recycled plastic fibres;
      • Sporthouse is an Irish company making bags in China / Pakistan with a lifetime guarantee and hoping to start using recycled materials soon;
      • 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 - aim for pre-loved

      Your community, WhatsApps groups, and school might guide you to a second-hand uniform, but if not, check:

      • SkoolStuff.ie - free classified ads for all school stuff except books
      • Schooly - buy / sell / freecycle uniforms (and books)
      • 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.
      • Put an 'ISO' (in search of) post in Zero Waste Freecycle Ireland Facebook group or your local area Freecycle 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.
      • SkoolStuff.ie - free classified ads for all school stuff except books


      Hopefully the Government scheme means you don't need to think about books for primary school anyway.

      In case you do need books, second-hand isn't always workable for school books but it's worth a quick check:

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

      Offfer and ask for pre-loved books in parent WhatsApp groups.

      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?
      • Avoid last-minute panic-buying of cheap plastic toys - get ahead of the birthday parties and have 10 sustainable party gifts for your child's class age ready (and get them at a discount), with our "school term of birthday party gifts" bundles

      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.PartyKitNetwork.org
        • 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 school supplies list instead of plastic?
        2. What are your other tips for eco-friendly back to school?

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