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Eco-Friendly Back to School Shopping

Several recent surveys have shown that this upcoming back to school shopping season, parents and kids alike are interested in "green" options for their supplies. As the market for green products has grown drastically in recent years, there are thousands of items from which they can choose. With the right knowledge, it's easy to find ways to have an eco-friendly back to school shopping spree without sacrificing any of the necessities.

Reduce. With the rock bottom prices which accompany most back to school sales, it is really easy to go overboard. That's why it's important to have a list and to stick to it. It can prevent "doubling-up" on items which the child may already have. Any lists provided by the school are a very good place at which to start.

Re-use. Lists are particularly handy when it comes to items which can be used again from year-to-year. For example, last year's rulers, calculators, compasses, protractors, and sturdy binders can all be re-used. Also, as previously stated, maybe there are unused notebooks and packages of new pens around the house from last year's back to school shopping. If these items have been purchased already, scratch them off of the list.

Recycle. If it can't be re-used, donate it or recycle it. Backpacks and clothes which have been outgrown can be given to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other such charity. Many spent school supplies can be recycled, from used printer and notebook paper to calculators and the batteries that go in them.

Binders, Notebooks and Paper. When it comes to earth-friendly back to school shopping, buying recycled paper products is the easiest way to be "green." From notebooks and fill paper to binders and dividers, there are recycled versions of just about any paper school supply out there. Look for the label that says it's been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Pens and Pencils. Believe it or not, there are pens and re-useable pencils which are made mostly out of recycled material. It just takes a little label-reading to find these products. Also, using refillable pencils is an eco-friendly alternative to using those made out of wood.

Backpacks. First check to see if the backpack from last year is still in good condition. If so, it may simply need a spin around the washer to make it back to school ready. If it's too worn and needs replacing, choose a backpack which has been made out of earth-friendly, sustainable materials, such as hemp or organic cotton. Extra Credit. Backpacks and messenger bags have been the loyal work-horse of students around the world. With new innovations in technology, they can work overtime. There are now backpacks which generate electricity through solar panels or repetitive motion as the wearer walks. The power can be used to charge MP3 players, cell phones, even laptops.

Lunch Materials. A lot of garbage can be generated during lunch time. Between the traditional "brown bags," convenient single-serving packaging, and plastic sandwich baggies, just about anything can be thrown away to take up space in a landfill. An eco-friendly alternative is to buy a washable lunch box or insulated bag, re-useable containers for sandwiches and snacks, and refillable beverage bottles.

School Clothes. When it comes to back to school clothes shopping, first make sure that it's needed. For example, if a teenager has a drawer or closet full of jeans, a new pair isn't needed just for school. Then when what is necessary has been determined, try to buy clothing that's made out of organically grown cotton, hemp, or other environmentally friendly materials.

Purchasing a few items of kids' school clothing from thrift or consignment stores is also a great example of recycling used materials. As an added bonus, unique items are sure to be found at a second-hand store. Who wants the same old T-shirt everyone else has anyway?

When purchasing items made out of recycled material, check their labels to see if they contain "post-consumer waste." Post-consumer waste is essentially "garbage," like plastic, aluminum cans, and newspaper which was recycled instead of being sent off to landfills. The higher the percentage, the better. What's more, products made from recycled resources are often cheaper than items made from "new" materials, adding an economical reason to shop earth-friendly.

Many children and teenagers are very aware of the environment. In general, the generations attending school now feel a strong urge to do they're part to protect the earth. By shopping green, parents can help kids know that they are doing their part to preserve the earth's valuable resource while simultaneously giving them everything they need to accomplish their educational goals.

Sara Duane graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, with a BA in English in 2003. She is as a freelance writer & editor in central Minnesota.

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