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Save Money & Green Back-to-School Supplies!

I have never ordered a pre-assembled kit of back-to-school supplies. My oldest child used to feel left out when every other child in his class was given ‘the box’ on the first day of school but now he has no problem bringing his decorated shoe box with more carefully selected school supplies inside. At this stage of my parenting journey, I’m not even sure I would pay the money to have a green pre-assembled school supplies kit provided for my children because I think we often forget about reusing with back to school. For the last few years, at the end of the school year, I parked their books and supplies in a bag or box and forgot about them in a closet. This year I combed through previous years of supplies and to my delight I won’t need to purchase many new items! Check out the sets I made from mixed sets of crayons – I have four complete sets for each of my kids!

I wasn’t sure if teachers would mind if supplies weren’t new and I was reminded by a reader and teacher on the MF fanpage that a crayon color spectrum is really more important for your children than the teacher. Purchasing Crayola products goes against so much of what I believe in because they are a huge company that doesn’t have the manufacturing standards I usually support –  so it’s been a relief to realize it’s up to my kids if they only want 6 beeswax or soy crayons in art supplies that are made in North America and don’t contain petroleum. The Clementine brand I point to at the end of this article for crayons, markers, and glue are all manufactured in the US and that is important. I of course won’t be purchasing the soy or beeswax crayons this year because I’ve done a great job of rounding up crayons in my own home – reusing is always best! And I’ve made 4  complete sets! But when you need to purchase new, avoid the petroleum, plastic, and antibacterial crap on the market and become your child’s eco warrior with back-to-school shopping!

Where else can you easily up-cycle with back-to-school supplies?  You know the little interlined work books for elementary school?  I have found more than 10 of these from previous years that only have a few pages filled out . . the rest are blank! I’ve ripped out these pages and will be sending the rest of the blank books with my kids. I have blank printer labels and will be applying these to the front of the books to eliminate the name, grade, subject information my children wrote from previous years. There is a cost savings here and think of the amount of wasted paper each year?!

Other supplies that are still in great condition that we are reusing from previous years? Wooden ruler, O’bon coloured pencil crayons, pencils, duotangs (empty and reuse), scissors, and paint! Now here are some tips for purchasing new back-to-school supplies. This is a great time to talk about commercialism with back-to-school. If you want to keep rolling over school supplies each year, stay away from the licensed folders, pencil cases, backpacks, water bottles, etc. That cute little monkey design or Dora and SpongeBob print might be cute for Grade 1 but they are not babies anymore by Grade 2 and might feel embarrassed by bringing what they once loved at this age. Keep supplies classic and simple – there is a secret to longevity by doing this. I would also encourage not to bring small children back-to-school shopping with you. If it’s just going to be a tantrum or fight for the supplies they don’t understand are poor quality and toxic – let kids stay home. Bring older kids with you and explain why and how you are making decisions on what to buy. Have older children go through supplies from the previous year and save what they’ll reuse. Also have them participate with decorating the up-cycled shoe box to bring supplies in.

I noticed last year and again this year, companies are doing a lot of marketing for Microban and antibacterial products. Examples of this are pencils, scissor handles, water bottle lids (the worst of all in my opinion), and binders. Normally Microban in plastic contains Triclosan which is a chemical that does not belong in back-t0-school supplies. The original use for Triclosan, a strong chemical, was used in surgical rooms. Why would we turn a classroom into the equivalent of a hospital with antibacterial properties? Skip this chemical (look for antibacterial or Microban marketing) and if you are asked why by school administration you can reply “this is a pesticide linked to hormone disruptions, allergies, asthma, skin irritation, eczema, and thyroid problems”. I have found when you explain to teachers the reason behind limiting your children to chemical exposure – that you’re not trying to be difficult – they are very understanding. Probably the biggest product linked to antibacterial and might be on your school list is hand sanitizer. This is an important one to make eco-friendly and the easiest way is to not purchase anything and request that your child is given the opportunity to wash their hands more often. If you are more comfortable knowing he can disinfect quickly – send Cleanwell wipes or spray in your child’s back-to-school kit. Again, unleash your eco-warrior and don’t let the marketing of ‘germs’ pressure you into purchases that use endocrine disrupting chemicals that could lead to an allergy. Here is a personal story about hand sanitizer. The brands that have perfume or strong scent will trigger a reaction with a person (like me) with chemical sensitivities. A person in one of my children’s classes had just applied hand sanitizer (apricot scented) and the 2 minutes I was in the classroom delivering hot lunches, I felt dizzy and left with a headache. Please be aware of the effects of using strong chemicals – if not for yourself but other people.

I’ve also noticed some ‘non-stick’ marketing with back-to-school supplies. Does anyone need teflon on their scissors? I’m not sure what the inner coating of lunch bags that are marketed non-stick but I stay clear! Remember my article on teflon lined diaper bags? Since researching this article I’ve been wary of non-stick lined products that are marketed to clean or wipe up quickly from spills. I stick to 100% organic cotton lunch bags in place of this and love that they are machine washable. Sticking with cotton is just a great way to go with backpacks, gym bags, and sandwich bags because at the end of their life, you cut off the zipper and plastic velcro and compost. That is a great full cycle story for a product…reuse, reuse, reuse and then compost.  It’s my favourite kind of story.

The last tip is the most important for back-to-school supplies shopping. Avoid plastic. All plastic. I don’t care if it’s marked free of everything; BPA, phthalates, PVC, etc.  At the end of the day, at the end of it’s shelf life – it’s still plastic. We are experiencing the greatest problem in our history with ocean pollution and the leading cause is plastic. Our health has never been so clouded with problems: cancer, asthma, allergies, diabetes, skin sensitivities, endocrine disruption, and more. I don’t trust plastic. Studies have found that many products labeled BPA-free still released chemicals that mimic estrogen.  PVC plastic is a known poison to human health and the environment so if you are purchasing backpacks or supplies made from plastic, please ensure it’s marked PVC-free. Summon your eco-warrior and use your nose if buying plastic…don’t put anything in your cart with that strong plastic smell.  Did you know that coloured paper clips contain PVC coating? With all supplies, including litterless lunch systems, stick with plain stainless steel. Most supplies like rulers, folders, duo-tangs, and binders have non-plastic alternatives in stores. Pens and markers still appear to be the toughest plastics to avoid with back-to-school. Search out recycled plastic options to lesson your environmental impact. If you see a specific plastic request on your child’s school supplies list from the school, try substituting it with a material you are comfortable with. On my children’s list I see a plastic containers to put supplies. Every year I use a shoe box, my kids decorate it with a best memory from the summer and I’ve never received a complaint. Sometimes the supplies lists we are receiving haven’t been tweaked in many years so it’s more of a guideline. The below picture is of my oldest son’s supplies box from last year. It’s in such good shape we are using it again this year!

 

I reviewed soy crayons a few years back and loved them!  You can find Clementine Soy Crayons via Organically Hatched. These crayons are literally like using butter – they just glide. If your child is happy with streamlining their color selection to 6 – then you should be happy too! And minus the petroleum and colorants used by traditional companies! Actually, you could pickup non-toxic glue, crayons, markers, and paint all at the same time shopping here. There isn’t anything eco-friendly about the plastic surrounding the Clementine markers but they are additive free, without scent. Having discussions about what has influenced your purchases with back-to-school products is a wonderful time to educate children. I’m hoping by going through supplies from previous years and re-using what you can, the ability to afford the slightly higher prices for greener back-to-school supplies is manageable. Your children will become your voice and echo the education. My child was the one in Grade 2 last year telling his teacher that the cleaning supplies they were given to clean their desks were toxic and gave him a headache. We donated bottles of diluted Dr. Bronners for our children’s classrooms until the school switched over the Green Seal certified cleaners. A child’s voice is important and matters – give your children the wisdom and help create Eco-warrior children that inspire change!

Related Articles:

Back To School Eco Backpacks

End of School Sustainability

Teflon Lined Diaper Bags


Soccer Saturday – Getting Ready For Rain!

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How Long Items Take To Decompose In Landfills

I found these facts regarding how long various items take to biodegrade after we’ve thrown them in the trash very interesting. Seeing that all BC residents will be receiving a cheque for $100 per family member for the Climate Action Dividend, why not use a small amount of that money to actually green your life?  Don’t forget you must register your children via this form to receive the dividend.

After reading the examples of how long items take to decompose in our landfills, why not pay that small extra amount to buy biodegradable garbage bags?  One very small step can make the huge difference of these petroleum based bags taking 20 years to break down in our landfill…and that’s if they have proper exposure to air, etc.  Or check out the time for a Styrofoam cup to decompose…100 years!  If you are a frequent coffee person that likes take-out, why not invest in a travel cup and carry it with you?  Small steps are going to help us clean up our mess. 

 (Source is the UK Department of the Environment)

  • Plastic bags, 10-20 years
  • Glass bottle – 1 million years
  • Plastic Beverage Bottle – unknown, possibly 500+ years
  • Cotton rags, 1-5 months
  • Paper, 2-5 months
  • Rope (natural fiber), 3-14 months
  • Orange peels, 6 months
  • Wool socks, 1-5 years
  • Cigarette filters, 3-12 years
  • Milk cartons, 5 years
  • Leather shoes, 25-40 years
  • Nylon fabric, 30-40 years
  • Plastic 6-pack holder rings, 450 years
  • Styrofoam cup, 100 years
  • Banana peels, 2-10 days
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Food Storage Without Plastic or BPA Concerns

I received a question from Jackie regarding an alternative to wrapping her food in plastic to store in the freezer.  Funny enough I was wondering how to eliminate wrapping meat that I buy to freeze in plastic wrap, then popping them into a freezer bag.  I’m no longer comfortable with having my food in close contact with plastic and I’ve realized I have a serious addiction to plastic baggies that I’m trying to break.  They are just wayyy too handy to use.  BUT – after googling Pyrex glass food containers, I’ve found my solution to both of these problems.  We know that glass baby bottles have been recommended rather than plastic for babies and toddlers, well it’s back-to-basics with all food storage. Pyrex is a name that has been around forever and they are very cost effective.  I find it shocking how expensive Tupperware is and they don’t code their products with a plastic recycling code.  Really, it’s scary to know what kind of plastic they use…and it costs a fortune! 

With food storage, Pyrex products can go into the refrigerator, freezer,  microwave, or oven.  They are also dishwasher and microwave safe. Unlike the plastics we are so suspicious about, they won’t absorb food flavors, odors, or stains…including tomato-based sauces.   I always wondered after storing left-overs with tomato sauce, why my plastic was stained from sauce. Well now I know the cheap plastic was probably leaching BPA into my food.  Lovely.

Pyrex is also made in America.  If you’ve purged your kitchen of all plastic containers, it’s time to start fresh with a quality product..and won’t it be nice to have lids that match the container?  <smile>

 

If you divide up bulk food to freeze from Costco, etc., this 6 piece set looks great for larger items.

 

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BPA Found Highest In Canned Food and Infant Formula!

Many people are aware of the dangers of BPA (Bisphenol A) regarding baby bottles and sippy cups, but the highest level of BPA has been found in tin cans used for food.  There is a layer of plastic used in cans to insulate food from contamination with the tin material.  I guess the fact that none of my children like canned soup or alphageties is a bonus, but we eat a lot of canned tomatoes.  I was shocked that the item that is known to leach the highest level of BPA is infant formula.   Why does it seem BPA is affecting our babies and children the most?  This topic is so disturbing. 😯

Last March, the Environmental Working Group reported the results of a study testing 97 cans of food for BPA.  Source Environmental Working Group:

  • Cans of chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had the highest BPA levels.
  • 1 in 3 cans of infant formula had BPA levels “200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.”
  • Overall, 1 in 10 cans tested had high levels of BPA.
  • Beverage cans have fewer BPA residues; canned pasta and canned soups have the highest levels.

To limit BPA exposure, the Environmental Working Group recommends:

  • Consider using powdered formula.
  • Avoid number 7 plastics.
  • Pliable, milk-colored plastic does not contain BPA.

Also:

The EWG recommends parents use the following formula options, in this order of preference:

1. Your first choice should be powdered formula in a can with as little metal as possible, such as the brands in this order:

BETTER Nestlé, Enfamil & Similac powdered
(BPA in top and bottom of can)
GOOD Earth’s Best & Bright Beginnings powdered
(BPA in entire can)

2. Second choice: concentrated liquid formulas

3. Avoid all ready-to-eat liquid formulas in metal cans

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BPA Plastics: Thermos Water Bottle Solution

batman1.jpgThe dangers of  BPA leaching from plastics came to my attention a few months ago.  I immediately emailed my greenest friend Suzanne and got the scoop on stainless steel water bottles for the kids.   She educated me in the world of stainless steel and I found the Thermos ‘FUNtainers” and Klean Kanteens were the front runners for my family.  I found my Thermos stainless steel FUNtainers at London Drugs and immediately threw out all plastic water sippies.  The kids love their Thermos bottles (the commercial prints on the bottles make your kids want to use them) so I have no regrets with the purchase, but this company makes it tough for Canadians to totally embrace them.   The replacement straws that you need are tough (if not impossible) to find in Canada making this $18 purchase an item that has a shelf life.  You can order these cups online via the Thermos web site, but my two friends that did this got dinged with so many duty and ‘service’ charges once they arrived, it was ridiculous.   **If you can have them shipped somewhere in the States and order replacement straws at the same time this would be a great idea.**   Three other cons I can think of with these bottles are they are heavy, they utilize 2 plastic pieces (aren’t we trying to get away from all plastic here?), and a  biggie for me…if you have any problems with your order, their customer service is terrible.  You honestly feel like your banging your head against cement trying to get assistance via their email customer service or the phone number that’s listed on the web site.   But if you can overlook these negatives, you can’t beat the kid friendly designs these bottles have…it’s hard to beat having Batman or a Princess on your water bottle if you’re a kid.

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