5 Sustainable Actions for Back To School Shopping

It’s almost that time of year again when parents take their children shopping to spend hundreds of dollars on school supplies or post-secondary students break their bank account preparing to return to college or university. Although we may not be able to avoid buying these supplies year over year, here are five steps you can take to save money and reduce your environmental footprint in the process.

Back to school supplies.

1. Reuse

As obvious as it seems, many consumers do not realize the number of leftover supplies at the end of the school year. For instance, spiral notebooks commonly have pages remaining. You can rip out the written pages and the notebook will be as good as new! Surprisingly, a lot of papers end up only being used on one side – leaving the other side completely blank. The blank side could be used as a notepad by cutting the page into quarters. This is perfect for jotting messages, creating lists or leaving a note for someone. Likewise, purchasing used textbooks will help reduce the demand for new textbook production. The Environmental Paper Network states that if we reduce paper consumption by 10% each year, there would be enough energy saved to power 228 000 homes, preserve 41 billion litres of water, and reduce carbon emissions. This is the equivalent to eliminating 279 000 cars off the road.

School supplies.

2. Get Creative

There is often a feeling of being pressured into buying something new and fresh every year. For example, consumers have a habit of purchasing a new backpack every year, even though their old one still has plenty of life. There may be a hole or rip in it, but with some creativity, it is possible to patch it up in a fashionable way. In addition, you can restore the backpack by vacuuming the inside and washing it with soap and water to remove stains. Even if your old backpack is no longer suitable for school, it can be reused to store items inside a vehicle or as a carry bag for gardening tools.

DIY school supplies.

3. Buy Second-Hand

The term “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” could not be any more accurate. Online classified sites such as Kijiji can come be very useful for purchasing used items. For instance, if you were planning on buying a new desk at Ikea, you may find the same one on Kijiji for a fraction of the price. Also, if you no longer want your items, you can sell or trade them. Kijiji allows you to earn money back or directly swap for something different. This supports the local economy while contributing to good environmental practices. According to Kijiji, 1.9 billion items exchanged hands in 2016. The second-hand market is of interest to consumers who know that they are recycling unwanted items while reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfills.

Save money on used books.

4. Set a Reasonable Budget

We all know that back-to-school shopping can get costly. Why not set a budget to limit your expenses? With recycling, creativity and buying second-hand, you can manage to lower your expenses for the must-buy new school supplies.

As mentioned, the most common school supplies such as notebooks, backpacks, binders, and pencils typically last longer than one school year. By limiting your budget, you can only purchase a certain amount of supplies without going over-budget. In 2011, $7.7 billion was spent during the back-to-school shopping season, which exceeded spending over the holiday season at $5 billion. Evidently, consumers are spending more than necessary for back-to-school supplies.

5. Give it a Second Thought

In summary, give this a second thought – do I really need all of this? It is apparent that we don’t need new clothes every year or even new notebooks, however we often have a desire to purchase these items to make us feel satisfied. With careful consideration, many of the new items purchased for back-to-school are not necessary. Therefore, we should all move towards minimizing our purchases and reducing our overall consumption. By taking these sustainable steps, you will not only save money, but also have a positive impact on the environment.

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About the Author

Vincent is an Urban Planning student at the University of Waterloo with a passion for environmental change. His interests are in land development and transportation planning to develop compact and high-density communities. Besides urban planning, he is an avid car enthusiast, particularly in performance vehicles.

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