Sustainable back-to-school: How to go green in the classroom

Getting your kids ready for a new year of learning? Here’s how to make smarter choices for the planet with these eco-friendly back-to-school ideas.

With a new school year about to start, now is the traditional time for parents to rush about, organising uniforms, books and stationery.

But with the world’s increasing focus on climate change, more parents are factoring in how they can make better, more sustainable choices when it comes to setting their kids up for the academic year.

“Parents have an important role to play in getting active on climate and sustainability to ensure their kids’ safety, health and future are protected,” Groundswell Giving director and co-founder Arielle Gamble says.

Here’s how to go green for the 2022 school year.

Reuse last year’s equipment

“Don’t set up an expectation that you need new school items every year,” Total Environment Centre community campaigner Lisa Wriley says.

“If you don’t need to replace school bags, lunch boxes and pencil cases, then don’t.”

This also goes for stationery.

Do your kids really need a brand-new set of pens and pencils every year? Probably not.

Do a stocktake of your supplies before heading to the shops and avoid ordering the whole back-to-school list if you don’t need everything.

How to make uniforms more eco-friendly

It’s no longer unpopular or daggy to wear hand-me-down uniforms.

Pre-owned clothes help reduce waste and save money.

“Embrace hand-me-downs, second-hand, pre-loved everything from family, friends and online swap groups,” Lisa says.

“Encourage your school to set up a second-hand uniform cupboard or space if they don’t already have one.”

Shoes are also important, Lisa says.

“Many shoe companies are improving their sustainability practices,” she says.

“Ask your school-shoe supplier and read the labels for recycled content and research workers’ conditions.”

Choose sustainable supplies

Going green is on trend, so it can be pretty easy these days to source new items that are environmentally friendly.

Think exercise books made from recycled paper and items made from recycled plastic.

But be discerning as something that’s marketed as “green” may not necessarily be great for the environment.

One simple idea is to reuse plastic containers and drink bottles you have at home for lunches to avoid cling wrap and other packaging.

Buy refurbished tech

Green gadgets are the latest focus in sustainability and can save you money.

Opt to buy a refurbished phone, computer or tablet online.

Just make sure it’s a reputable store that provides a warranty.

Recycle old products correctly.

Mobile phones, for example, can’t be recycled in your council-provided waste bin.

Advocate for change

Solar power is a critical way to reduce fossil fuel use, so why not check your school’s green policy and advocate for changes this year.

“If your children’s school isn’t already running on renewables, get involved to help them make the switch,” Arielle says.

Ditch the car where possible

In Australia, transportation is the third largest source of greenhouse gases.

“On the home front, offsetting your car’s carbon emissions, walking or cycling on the school run, or buying an electric vehicle if you can, are steps you can take to reduce your impact on the planet,” Arielle says.

Start taking action at home

Your home is the first place to make big, long-lasting changes.

Arielle says you could consider growing fruit and vegetables for lunchboxes, which will also create an added opportunity for education.

Also, consider changing your detergents to be earth-friendly and waste-free, as you’ll likely be doing more laundry once your kids hit the schoolyard.

Sit down and write a list of areas you can make change and involve the kids, she adds.

Written by Alex White.