It’s almost that time of year my kids have been dreading all summer - time to go back to school.
For better, healthier, greener back to school supplies, here are some tips:
Reuse before you buy new – backpacks, school supplies, lunch boxes, and yes, even school clothes from last year can be cleaned and dusted off for reuse. Focus on a couple of new items, and for the rest, reuse what you already have from last year. Go through your drawers and gather up your school supplies from last year. Organize closets and figure out what clothes your kids actually need. Your kids may baulk at it, but you save money and reduce waste.
Avoid supplies with PVC – Unfortunately PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a toxic plastic that is dangerous to our health and the environment, is found in many school supplies. PVC (usually called vinyl), is dangerous throughout its entire life cycle – when manufactured, in use and when it’s thrown away. To steer clear of it, look for binders, backpacks and lunchboxes labeled “PVC-free”. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell which products contain PVC and which do not. For guidance, check out “Back to School Guide to PVC-School Supplies” from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. This guide lists the most common back-to-school supplies made out of toxic PVC and suggests safer PVC-free products in over 20 product categories.
Skip anything labeled “antibacterial” or “antimacrobial” – The number of products with antibacterial labels (which contain either triclosan, and/or a related chemical called triclocarban) has extended way beyond just hand sanitizer. Now, it’s showing up in pens and pencils, binders, backpacks and lunch bags. In addition to evidence that these chemicals can cause hormone disruption, allergies, and thyroid problems, it’s overuse is leading to an increase in “superbug” bacteria strains, resistant to antibiotics. And, although these products cost more, there is no evidence they provide any benefit over traditional products or traditional methods, such as just washing your hands with plain old soap and warm water. For more information, see this Rodale article “Avoid This Toxic Back-to-School Rip-Off“.
Pack a better lunch – The average school-age child eating a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste during the year for just one average-size elementary school! If you switch to using reusable containers and reusable water bottles rather than traditional baggies, pre-packaged food, and disposable water bottles you will save about $250 per school year per child. You will also provide healthier food your kids. Remember to look for lunch boxes that are lead-free, BPA-free and PVC-free.
While any product that is reusable is better than disposable baggies, for the safest and most durable food containers, you can’t go wrong with stainless steel.
For this upcoming year, we are replacing the kids’ Laptop Lunch containers – like the one pictured above – with stainless steel containers from lunchbots. Although the Laptop lunch boxes have served us well for five school years now, with one child headed off to Jr. High, we are ready for a change. I really like Lunchbots because they are food grade 18/8 stainless steel, with no lining, and no toxins. They will not leach like plastic, particularly if exposed to sun or heat. You can purchase these online, or locally in Orange County at The Road Less Traveled store in Santa Ana.
Finally, in the midst of the back-to-school shopping madness, remember to enjoy the last lazy days of summer with the kids. They will be a year older and back in school before you know it.