Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Going Back to School Green

This is from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Column for the week of August 24th, 2014, by Harrison Jackson. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a Green Center located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  They serve Green Schools in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset Counties.  Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 

    The dog days of summer are almost over which means that families across the U.S. are gearing up for another school year. Parents and children are going back to school shopping, planning out morning and after school schedules and preparing for the next few busy months. This yearly tradition is a major boon to our economy; August is historically one of the top three shopping months of the year, after November and December, according to the U.S. Census. Undoubtedly, all parents want their children to go off to school with the best materials available, however keeping an eco-friendly conscious in mind while choosing school supplies not only helps to protect our planet but also save some money as well.

    First things first when it comes to back to school shopping is, what supplies do you or you child already have? The best thing to do before going back to school shopping is check to see what you already have and do not have so that way you are not buying extra supplies you or your child may never use. Many families will go out and buy new notebooks and binders, even though last years might only have a few pages of writing. Cut or tear out the used pages and re-use the old notebooks, while supplementing that with new ones, preferably the recycled paper kind. Instead of buying new pens and pencils every year, buy a few decent lead pencils or refillable pens to minimize excess clutter in drawers, save money and reduce the need for new plastic pens and wooden pencils.
    Try to pick supplies with a minimal amount of packaging; not everything needs to be individually cellophane wrapped. Specifically picking out eco-friendly products in minimal wrapping will help to reduce the amount of non-recyclable trash entering the landfills ever year.  You can even skip the lines in major retail and department stores by shopping online. It helps to reduce traffic on the road, you can usually still get the same discounts or use coupons and it helps to save a little time as well.
    Apart from the typical school supplies, make sure to buy the correct backpack for your child or student. The backpack should be made using recycled and other earth friendly materials if possible, however it should be sturdy and reliable. Over half of all students in America suffer from back, neck or shoulder pain because of the heavy supplies they carry in their backpack so make sure that your child's backpack is suitable and correctly adjusted to fit them as well.

    Apart from “greening up” your back to school shopping, there are also a few other eco-friendly ways to help start of the school year right. Make sure to pack lunches in reusable containers and lunch boxes, you can even use reusable grocery bags. Use tupperware or other washable, reusable containers as opposed to disposable plastic sandwich bags and brown paper bags. This helps to reduce the need for paper and plastic while saving some time and money. Have your child pick out a reusable water bottle to encourage them to drink water throughout the day and help reduce the need for plastic water bottles.

    If the school does not already have a recycling program, encourage your child or students to help start one. Students can also help by creating a rain garden, installing rain barrels, creating a Public Service Announcement about going green or choosing from a plethora of other different eco-friendly projects. Not only will these service projects help the planet, but it also helps the school, helps to teach kids to care about their local environment and looks great on a college or job resume.

    Of course there are also a few ways to help keep your morning routine “green” to. Make sure you and your children turn off the sink when brushing your teeth to help conserve water and save money. In the same vein, try to also encourage your children to take shorter showers if possible in an effort to help save some water, save time and money.

    If your child takes the bus, make sure they are at the bus stop on time so that the bus does not have to idle and wait, which wastes gas and time. If you live close enough to the school, consider having your child walk or bike to school. Not only is this a healthier alternative, but it also keeps the school buses off the road and reduces traffic. When you and your child leave the house for the day, make sure to turn off all non-essential lights in the house and remember to turn off and unplug appliances so that they do not continue to draw electricity when they are not being used.

    Overall, there are many different ways to “go Green” when getting ready to go back to school. Pick and choose strategies that work for both you and your children so that they do not feel any extra stress during this already hectic time period. With so many families buying school supplies and getting ready for the new school year, it is a perfect time to show what smart, informed consumers can do to help our environment and keep our students happy and healthy.

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.