Greening School

My daughter Hannah is starting kindergarten in a few weeks. I am currently doing my summary best to ignore this fact. For now, that’s working for me. So, hooray for that! Eventually, I will be able to ignore the reality no longer. And there are a whole lot of things that I will have to consider and make decisions about. Whenever I come out of denial.

One of the things that I will be considering is the environmental impact of Hannah’s school experience. When we attended the orientation night, there were sculptures that the children had made out of their recyclables lining the hallways. The sculptures were lovely, and I loved that they were emphasizing recycling in the first place. But a lot of the recyclables were items like empty juice boxes and plastic water bottles. I couldn’t help but think it would be better to avoid these items in the first place.

Since this is my first experience with public education as a parent, I don’t have a lot of actual knowledge about how schools can reduce their environmental impact. But I do have a few thoughts on how I am going to try to reduce my family’s environmental impact as Hannah enters kindergarten. Here are my ideas:

1. Green the lunchbox. I will pack items in re-usable containers, and send along re-usable cutlery and a stainless steel water bottle. At home, I buy the biggest food package we can reasonably use, or avoid packaging altogether, and reduce the amount of waste that is produced with Hannah’s snacks and lunches. I am also starting to phase out plastic, in favour of glass and stainless steel containers, to avoid any possible concerns associated with storing food in plastic.

2. Green the trip to and from school. Hannah’s daycare was approximately 3.5 km from our house, which is a little far to walk twice a day with a toddler and a 5-year-old in tow. Luckily, Hannah’s school is much, much closer. I plan to walk to school and back each day. It means two round trips, including a big hill, for me, 5 days a week. Not only is it carbon-neutral, but it might be good for me, too.

3. Green the school supplies. I admit, I haven’t been that proactive about this one. Hannah’s school gave me the option of paying them, and then they arrange school supply purchase and delivery through a private company. Luckily, most of the items on Hannah’s list are pretty basic – exercise books, pencils, crayons, erasers. In the future, though, I think I will take the list and do my own shopping, so I can opt for more sustainable supplies, with less packaging and a lower carbon footprint.

4. Green the back-to-school wardrobe. There are a lot of options now for fun and sustainable kids’ clothing. Companies opt for alternative fibers, organic cotton, and non-toxic dyes. And, of course, buying second-hand is always environmentally friendly. And, really, who wants to step into the back-to-school frenzy at the local mall, anyway? Not me.

So, tell me, experienced parents of school aged children. Do you think that public schools are as green as they can be? And how do you reduce the environmental impact of back-to-school time? I’d love to know!

I was inspired to write this post for the Green Moms Carnival, which is being hosted by the lovely Micaela at Mindful Momma this month. If you want more ideas on greening back-to-school, check it out on August 30!

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  1. Darn – hate being the first comment when I’m hoping to learn something from the other comments. I have 2 years to be in denial about school. And I’m sure Amber will pass a lot of great suggestions from her experience by then.

  2. Have no fear – you will have green issues rammed down your throat during your child’s school life. It’s a big part of the curriculum and at some point you will grow tired of being lectured to since most of the advice is sanctimonious and impractical. And don’t expect the message to be carried thru at school. The ‘recycling’ projects and arts stuff being a case in point, with no sense of the irony it creates. One memorable project my wee guy was involved in was a visit by Dr Recycling, in which the class would be involved in making objets d’art with ordinary household recyclables. A list came home and the requirements dispatched on the due date; the word which came home was that only the individual yogurt containers would do, not the big multi-serving pot we usually get (to save on packaging)!
    Also, the wee guy’s school encourages recycling but won’t actually recycle. Children are encouraged to use minimal packaging, but the juice boxes supplied with the pizza lunch, and the cartons from the milk program are not recycled within the school. Evidently it’s “too messy” for the school to recycle – what a great example to set!
    ….. and don’t get me started on the amount of paper which comes home, the size of the mostly wasteful school planner, and the general hypocrisy endemic within the system …..

    happy school days!
    pomomama aka ebbandflo’s last post … friday forte- a late editionMy Profile

  3. A lot of good points from pomomama. Our school does heavily promote the ‘litterless lunch’, and all litter is sent home with the kids to be thrown out or recycled, but I have to admit to some sympathy for this since our school funding has been cut to the bone in a lot of instances. My kids have stainless steel water bottles and we use reusable containers as much as possible — although when you have to supply food for a big, athletic ten-year-old for a full day it gets hard to fit enough reusable containers into a reasonably-sized lunch box. There are blue boxes in the classroom and our school only sends home memos with one child if there are siblings in the school, and I don’t find an inordinate amount of paper comes home. We use the ends of un-filled notebooks once they come home at the end of the year. My Mom sews a lot of my kids’ clothes, although I’m unsure about the ‘greenness’ of the fabric we buy and should probably look into that. I’m sure you’ll approach this with your customary vigour and thoughtfulness — and if you have ideas about how the school can be more green, write them a letter — our school is often receptive to reasonable suggestions.
    allison’s last post … The Post that got More Untitleable the Longer I TypedMy Profile

  4. It’s wonderful that you can walk to school!! We’re too far from our kids’ school to walk them, unfortunately. One day, though… 🙂
    When I’m on snack duty for their classes, I make sure to send the snack in reusable grocery bags, and only send organic fruit & crackers, juice or milk.
    For lunch, they have fabric lunch sacks, and I use tupperware containers instead of baggies.
    I’d like to get more green though!

    Will be checking back for comments…
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … Philadelphia with ChildrenMy Profile

  5. My only additional tip is to promote more web based communication. The avalanche of papers will not go away completely, but it will be smaller.
    Good luck with the school experience! I also have a five-year-old, but he already have one year of JK under his belt. And he loved it all. Even the pieces I didn’t, hmm, love so much.

  6. Also, what with all the nut allergy safety rules, it is so hard to find healthy, organic snacks. No home-baked stuff is allowed and on the list of approved snacks you will have to look long and hard for even some what nutritious food. Not that there is anything wrong with fruit and veggies straight up, but what kid will be happy with that when their friends are opening their individually wrapped ‘nilla wafers?

  7. I wonder if having the school buy the supplies is green, because they probably buy in bulk, which means they’ll be on the pragmatic side, and it keeps each family from driving out to get their own, using gas and extra packaging. Not saying you personally couldn’t do better, but that it sounds like a relatively green option for the school as a whole.

  8. I can’t wait to learn so many great tips from you this year so that I will have a better grip on sending my son to school the following year!

  9. There are some great stainless steel lunch boxes I have seen, complete with cloth napkin and stainless steel straws even! The one thing I was always uncomfortable about with public schools is that most of the families don’t appear all that enviro-friendly. There are more kids than not who actually eat dunkaroos and drink kool aid from disposable containers. I think if a school composts that is saying something pretty good. And if they recycle plastic containers – although I always told my daughter to bring home any recyclable garbage because I wanted to be sure it got recycled. Recycling for us as kids was a pretty new “science”. For kids nowadays I think it is just common practice. If they do more than recycle drink containers and paper, then I am interested.

  10. Our schooling system is entirely different. The one thing I have real trouble with in general are the containers for snacks, as there’s nothing reusable and non-breakable aside from plastic (over here at least), and good size stainless steel water bottles.
    Francesca’s last post … On my kitchen tableMy Profile

  11. Our elementary school has recently started going close to paper-free “in an effort to be green”, but as they do not recycle, I strongly suspect it is really an effort to save money. Oh well, the end result’s the same, so I’ll happily log on to see their class newsletter and grades. My sister in law is a teacher in the middle school and single-handedly launched a recycling program, but she says it’s like pulling teeth to get the other staff to cooperate sometimes (the kids are pretty good about it, though). The schools don’t make any recommendations as far as lunch packaging goes and the hot lunch is the typical over-packaged junk.

    Here’s what I’m doing with regards to your four great points:

    1) green the lunch–I bought a Laptop Lunchbox for each kid a couple years ago. I have to say I don’t love them. It’s really hard to squish enough food in there to satisfy a big kid, and you have to cut everything down to mini sizes, which just takes extra time and is a deterrent to actually using them. I don’t always have time or inclination to come up with creative mini lunches; sometimes I’d just like to toss a sandwich and an apple in a bag and call it a day, yk? For $20 a pop I’d hoped for something more practical. I got some suggestions for bigger bentos from Wendy of but I’m thinking this year I’m just going to go with a reusable canvas bag or old-fashioned hard sided lunchbox and some not-too-expensive reusable containers (that I won’t cry over if they’re left behind or accidentally tossed.)

    2) Green the trip–since my kindergarten nephew will be coming to our house before school in the morning, I don’t feel good about sending my almost 11- and 7-year olds walking in charge of him. They’ll be grabbing the bus at the neighborhood stop.

    3) Green the supplies. I went through (yes…just now LOL) the kids’ backpacks from last year and was amazed at how many of the required school supplies from last year went unused. Notebooks with one page written in; barely-touched colored pencils, etc. We’re re-using as much of it as we can for school and at home. We may have enough of it that we don’t have to make another shopping trip. (And I’m going to encourage my MIL NOT to make her yearly school supply pilgrimage to Wal*Mart–as much as I appreciate it, we just don’t need a huge bag of brand-new folders when last year’s folders still have plenty of life left.)

    4) Green the wardrobe..well, with four boys, we do a LOT of handing down. While I always choose natural materials, I’ll admit I don’t go out of my way to find clothes made with organic fibers, because I find the cost prohibitive and I’m not familiar enough with the companies to know if the clothes will hold up well enough to be handed down. Either way, we don’t go overboard on new school clothes. We’ll do some thrifting, buy each kid a new shirt or two and a pack of underwear, and call it a day.

    Meagan Francis’s last post … 7 ways to avoid- head off- or recover from a mommy meltdownMy Profile

  12. We don’t have to pack lunches this year, luckily. I’m using a re-usable water bottle and re-using a snack cup. Need to look into a non-plastic snack cup though. Do you have a favorite?
    Lady M’s last post … First Day- Plus Shoemaker to ClonesMy Profile

    • Honestly? I like the Pyrex containers. They still have plastic lids, but the main food storage compartment is glass, and they’re easy to handle. Dishwasher / microwave safe and all that jazz.

  13. just saw this:
    doesn’t solve my snack problem, but they seem good options for green meals.
    Francesca’s last post … On my kitchen tableMy Profile

  14. Just follow your plans- they sound pretty good to me. Many schools do their darndest to recycle, but indeed it's the reducing that needs more attention. Many people are still unaware of the impact their buying habits have and a whole bunch look for convenience only. Setting examples, offering alternatives and talking about it go a long way in the right direction. But don't overdo it, that accomplishes the oposite. As for second-hand clothing? Get away with it as long as you can, but expect Hannah to want new things as well when she becomes more self-aware. Peer presssure can be enormous, but you can relax for a while yet. Finding like-minded familes to do things with together will make things like pre-owned clothing more acceptable to her. Greening the school supplies: The simpler, the better. Teacher hate those pencils with wriggley erasers on them. They distract the kids and often those supplies go missing fast, with tears as a result. As a teacher, I used to ask that parents NOT buy felt pens, especially the big ones. Loads of unwanted plastic. I'd buy two sets and let the whole class share them. Good luck, Amber!Marylke (Oma, mother and retired teacher)

  15. After filling in for 6 months as our local playschool teacher I can support the ‘greening the lunch box’ suggestion. The biggest culprit was the juice box. Yes, they are handy and require little effor to plop in the bad, but they aren’t practical at all. Alot of children struggle with the straws and the process of getting the straw in the whole without spilling the juice is another thing to worry about. Not only that, but after a few days I noticed just how many kids don’t actually finish their juice. Instead, they are tossing out a perfectly good drink that could have been drunk later if it was stored in a reusale drink container. It is just one waste after another with drink boxes. And as a side note…cleaning out the drink box recycling bin after a week of playschool kids have tossed their stuff in is really yucky, sticky and stinky!

    I some times use plastic bags for bigger items, but my girls are good at bringing them home to be re-used again and again. I do my best to be nice to the world when I pack their lunches. Over the course of the last two years of playschool fo Emma and one for Hannah, I have made alot of lunches and could have made alot of mess too, but we have made a decision to think about what we do all the time.
    Heather’s last post … A Little Bit AnxiousMy Profile

  16. We have a few years to go before I get to worry about this, but some things struck me from friends comments as they navigate their own children’s green school conundrums. Some examples:

    1. All lunch litter must come home with the child because the school does not recycle, and must pay to have their trash removed. Letting the parent deal with the trash is cost effective. Seriously? Our school budgets are cut that much that recycling and trash removal are too expensive? Recycling is something that should be done by example, and a school not doing so makes me sad.

    2. Textbooks are not allowed to leave the classroom for one of my friend’s middle-schooler (to prevent wear and tear, lost books), so photocopies of pages for homework are made for each child each day it is given. How is this green or cost effective?

    3. In my suburb, children who live more than 1 KM from the public school are required to be bussed or driven, unless you walk with them (this is for grades all the way to 8). You are not allowed to let them walk on their own. I think an eigth grader is sufficiently old enough, don’t you?

    4. One friend was frustrated because all the water fountains in her son’s school were turned off, and water bottles had to be bought. A memo came home a week later stating the bottles must be plastic because of “hitting incidents” with metal bottles making them too dangerous to have. Really?

    We’ll try our best when our son is getting ready for school, but I do hope the school we end up picking has green policies that make sense.

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  1. […] one year ago, I was preparing to send my firstborn to kindergarten, and I shared my plans for greening school with you. Here is what I intended to do to reduce the environmental impact of Hannah’s first […]

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