I well remember back-to-school shopping when I was young, trying to get everything I needed on a budget we could afford. School supplies were fairly basic (though picking the right design for my Trapper Keepers was always a big deal), and if we were lucky there was even money left over for a new outfit or two. (Or, more likely, a new-to-us outfit or two. "Brand new" didn't happen very often in those days!)
Friends with kids in school now tell me that things are very different these days. Where we used to need a notebook, paper, pencils, and possibly a calculator for the upper grades, I hear that teachers now send home long lists of supplies that kids will need (20 glue sticks in first grade? really??? wow.), because schools simply can't provide as much as they used to. This proves to be both an opportunity and an irritation for parents, who can use this chance to replace some of the conventional materials asked for with green alternatives. And, thankfully, there are many places to get these more eco-friendly options; if you can't find them locally, check out these and other online shops: Red Apple School Supply (which has a great School Supply Box program in which teachers or schools can specify the items students will need so parents can just pay for the supply box and not have to worry about choosing the appropriate materials), The Ultimate Green Store (what a name, eh?), and The Green Office.
The Center for Environmental Health and Justice offers a yearly Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, and EcoMall offers a (poorly formatted) list of earth-friendly back-to-school tips. Indeed, even iVillage.com has a pretty picture collection of Earth-friendly school supplies!
And, of course, the conventional school lunch often brings with it ridiculous amounts of trash (Lunchables, anyone?). It doesn't have to be so harmful to the environment, though; there are tons of more eco-friendly options. For example, ReuseIt.com has a wide selection of containers, bags, and bottles to help kids have a waste-free lunch. Other places do too. (My favorite option, though, is to make a reusable bag -- either from fabric or old jeans, whip up a few sandwich and snack bags, and cut a few small napkins from pinking shears (yes, I'm lazy sometimes; if I weren't, I'd actually hem the napkins). Add a water bottle, which we always have around, and you've got a great waste-free lunch option all your own ... and you've saved money, too!)
When I was in school, lo these many years ago, we had the occasional fundraiser; I'm told that they're ubiquitous now. "They're trying to sell us something every month, seems like," said a friend, elaborating that "and it's mostly plastic, made in China, or lousy chocolates. I hate having to choose between supporting my kids' school and saving the earth." Some schools have found a different solution, though -- they choose "green" fundraisers, like those you'll see at Equal Exchange, Mother Earth Fundraising, Koru Fundraising, Go Green Fundraising, Urban Farmer Seeds, and other places.
And as far as those beautiful back-to-school clothes we used to covet? I hear kids want them now, too -- and are more likely to get them, too, perhaps. ("My son will only wear GAP clothes," said the mom of a 7-year-old recently. Ouch!) But there are other choices here, too. We, of course, strongly support making clothes for your kids -- using eco-friendly fabrics, and making them yourself, you can be sure that they'll be as sustainable as possible. Don't forget that we have wonderful patterns, in addition to the 300+ sustainable fabrics and natural notions we offer to make your sewing projects greener and more enjoyable. Shopping at the local secondhand store is another excellent option (that's where we get the "dress-up clothes" we need for our kids' music recitals). And there are, of course, wonderful people and companies making organic kids' clothes -- many of them our customers, even! We strongly recommend buying either US-made or certified Fair Trade organic clothes, as that way you can be more sure that the workers who made them were fairly treated and fairly compensated.
(And yes, we know that not all our customer have young kids, and not all those who have kids have chosen to put their kids in school. Many of these tips may be of interest anyway -- most of us need green office supplies at some point or another -- and if they aren't, perhaps you know someone to whom they will be helpful regardless. And, yes again, we know that the picture chosen for this entry isn't of school supplies; it's actually of my kids and their friends rock clambering at Rocky Mountain National Park last weekend. Because you can learn anywhere, right? :))