Going green for back to school

Special to baltimoresun.com

Although the rate of recycled waste in America has nearly doubled over the past 15 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, many families still find it challenging to 'live green,' while dealing with the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The end of summer is accompanied by thoughts of back-to-school shopping, car pools and play dates. The last thing on the typical parent's mind is the environment. From school supplies to a new wardrobe, we've got a breakdown of environmentally friendly back-to-school tips.

Gear up with eco-friendly school supplies
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Before you start back-to-school shopping, check around the house for previously used supplies that are still in good condition. If your child has a previously used notebook, tear out the old pages and use it again. If there is already a label on the cover, decorate it with photos or magazine clippings. Not only will the decorations cover the old label, they'll also add a personal and unique touch to your child's notebook. You can take the same approach with previously used folders and textbook covers. Keep in mind that recycling isn't just throwing things into a bin; it's also about how you re-use a product.

When buying new school supplies, look for products that use recycled ingredients. Also, products made from natural materials, like hemp, are good bets. You can find eco-friendly alternatives to all the basic school supplies -- and you don't have to look far. In fact, many office supply stores and chains sell eco-friendly school gear. Staples has a section on its Web site called EcoEasy, which spotlights eco-friendly products for the home, office and school. Similarly, Office Depot's site has a section called Your Greener Office. And chains like Wal-Mart and Target are jumping on the green bandwagon, too.

"Target offers an assortment of affordable eco-friendly supplies for guests who want to be more eco-conscious, including pencils made from recycled denim and pencil pouches made from reused Capri Sun containers," said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman.

Let's start with the most basic of the school essentials: the No. 2 yellow pencil. You can get a dozen EarthWrite pencils for less than $2, and they're available at office supply stores, like Staples and Office Depot. EarthWrite pencils are made from re-claimed wood and pre-consumer waste materials. When it comes to pens and markers, look for refillable ones. They can be used again and again, and you'll avoid the waste of buying disposable products. When shopping for pens, also keep an eye out for ones that use water-based ink (they're made with fewer toxins). Try Sanford Water-Based Ink Pens, which are available in five-packs at OfficeDepot.com for about $7.

Don't forget to stack up on paper, too. You can find Ampad EnviroTech 100% Recycled Paper at many office supply stores, including Staples.

Bookbags made from recycled rubber and hemp are very durable and come in stylish varieties. Older students will dig the Hemp Document Bag, available at hemp-sisters.com for $53.99. Also, when packing your child's lunch, consider using old grocery bags or buying washable cotton sacks.

Dress the part

For many students, image is very important. With that in mind, check out boutiques and online stores that sell organic cotton, denim and hemp clothing for kids of all ages.

WhiteApricot.com has deals and coupons for eco-friendly clothing; Soul-flower.com has hip clothing with an eco-friendly flair for older students; hemp-sisters.com features an assortment of organic accessories, such as hats and lip gloss; and at nubiusorganics.com, you can find sophisticated classics for kids who need to dress professionally for special projects and presentations.

Getting there

If you live in a safe area that's close to your child's school, encourage your high schooler to walk or bike to and from class; you can even accompany him/her on the walk. You'll save fuel, and your child will get some exercise each day.

When buses wait outside schools for students, drivers often leave their engines running, which allows harmful fuel emissions to enter the atmosphere unnecessarily. Talk to your child's bus driver or school board about the environmentally harmful effects of idling buses.

Be an advocate

Many schools have taken the initiative to recycle, but there are other simple steps schools can take to become more environmentally conscious.

• Request that your school order supplies that are composed of at least 30 percent to 50 percent recycled ingredients. More specifically, talk to art teachers about equipping their classrooms with toxin-free markers, paints and other supplies.

• Help organize special events on campus, like a tree-planting day. Such an event encourages kids to be active, teaches constructive lessons about the environment and helps the eco-system around the school.

• Advocate for healthy, environmentally friendly lunch options. For starters, suggest that your school buy local produce. It doesn't have to travel far, which cuts down on fuel emissions, and it's usually made with less pesticides than produce grown at large, corporate farms. You can also request that your school offer organic milks and juices.

Laurel Peltier, a mother of three, stresses the importance of healthy lunches for kids. Peltier is a member of Parents for Climate Action, which is a group made up of 25 mothers from Baltimore who meet regularly to discuss ways to balance being green and being a mom.

"The biggest thing is that I pack my kids lunches using healthy, local food in reusable lunch containers ... in a lunch bag that has no lead," Peltier said.

Be an inspiration

By purchasing recycled and biodegradable back-to-school products, you'll become more aware of what you use and how you use it. You may also teach your child a thing or two.

"I think for years now many people have dismissed global warming and the need for better stewardship of the environment as problems for future generations. But the science is telling us that these problems are hitting this generation of kids now," said Jennifer Emmett, the executive editor of children's books at the National Geographic Society. "More and more, kids today see being environmentally friendly as natural, and I think they'll see living in a greener world as opportunity as well as challenge."

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