How to “Green Up” Your Back-to-school Preparations

As soon as the last firework has been lit, you will find that retailers have made the switch. Suddenly the seasonal aisles of your local grocery store chain have been filled with endless school supplies. From backpacks to binders, folders and writing tools, going back to school offers one of the most popular buying sprees of the year.

But what does all of this pressure to buy mean for our environment? And which products are safest and freest of the chemicals that we have learned are harmful to our kids’ development?

I’m here with some ways to help moms transfer their green & clean living into their back-to-school shopping.


I’ve talked about this before, but the fashion industry has one of the most draining effects on our environment. The amount of water, pesticides and more that is used in the process of making one t-shirt is astounding.


So what’s wrong with shopping secondhand when it comes to restocking your kids’ back-to-school wardrobes? I realize it may not be their first choice and could be a bit of a hard sell, but I believe there are ways to make secondhand shopping seem somewhat cool.

When you shop on, it almost feels like you actually are getting something brand new. First off, they tend to be very selective, only accepting current styles that show almost no wear at all.

Furthermore, when you order from them, your shipment will arrive carefully enveloped in tissue paper and individually tagged using environmentally-friendly materials. For the green-inspired, you can easily reuse those tags for gifting purposes.

I always feel like I am getting brand new clothing without the guilt when I shop through

Local Thrift Stores

I just recently hit up a Goodwill and came out with a cartload full of goodies for my whole family. My eldest daughter is obsessed with looking “fancy,” and I found several nice dresses that she could wear to school.

I’ll admit, I’ve shopped my fair share of thrifts where I really had to dig in order to find a few items that were of any interest; but with some trial and error, you can locate an inexpensive wardrobe source for your family year-round.

Consignment Sales

The annual and semi-annual kids consignment sales that different organizations put on can also be a fabulous source for your family’s wardrobe woes. Check out the link here to locate one near you.

Yard Sales

Garage, yard, rummage . . whatever you want to call them, they are a hot source of secondhand back-to-school clothing. Because, let’s face it, our kids grow fast; and the stuff they leave in the dust needs a place to go!


Schoola is an option that I just learned about in my research for this post. This is a website that allows parents to send in gently used clothing that can then be sold on the website. A portion of the profits go to your designated school!

Host a Clothing Swap

I have hosted many a clothing swap and have found them to be fun, easy and a great way to restock the kids’ closets absolutely free! Here is a link to some articles on how to go about it. And if you don’t feel up to hosting your own, simply google “clothing swaps near me,” and you can often find one coming up in your area.


I know as moms we often feel there is no more important place to spend money than on our children’s learning. And all the retail focus that surrounds us just adds to that pressure.

Before you go filling your cart though, let’s take a look at what we can do to limit the waste and protect our kids from the toxins that are in many of your typical school supplies.

Take inventory

Before we do any shopping at all, it’s important to take inventory of the items we already have on hand and ask ourselves these questions:

  • Are there any items on the list that we already have leftover from last year that can be reused?
  • Is there any place we can find some of the items secondhand?

By doing so, we will avoid the urge to simply throw everything in the school’s supply list into our carts. Remember that there are more than 50 million kids out there also tossing supplies into theirs.

Secondhand Resources

Thrift Stores & Yard Sales

Just as with clothing, these are often good sources of gently used school supplies as well. Try this link for locating sales in your area, or simply search for a local Facebook group that lists sales in your city.

Freecycle & Buy Nothing Groups


Many backpacks are made of vinyl, the most toxic plastic out there due to chemicals that must be added to it. These chemicals include phthalates to make the material flexible, and heavy metals to make it durable.

Because the additives are not permanently bound, they are then released into our air where our kids inhale, ingest and absorb them. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, and heavy metals have an equally toxic effect on developing bodies.

Recycled PET or natural canvas backpacks are your safest options because they avoid PVC altogether. Here are some affordable options:

Crocodile Creek Eco Kids Hedgehog Backpack

So Young Grade School Backpack


Most of your standard 3-ring binders are made out of PVC and contain phtalates. Avery sells a variety of them that are labeled PVC-free. Avery is sold in a number of retail chains including Staples, Rite Aid, CVS and Target.


Each year 4 billion trees are cut down to make paper alone. Trees are a major factor in preventing climate change because they absorb greenhouse gases. That is why it is so important for us to seek out 100% post-consumer recycled paper when buying notebooks for the school year.

Both Norcom and Oxford brands sell the recycled paper, which can be found at retailers such as Walmart, OfficeMax, Target and Walgreens.


Pencils are another school supply that negatively impacts our precious natural resource, the tree. So look for recycled pencils as well. Fortunately, a number of different eco-friendly options exist now on Amazon. Some of them even have seeds inside that can grow herbs, flowers and fresh vegetables when you plant the leftover stub at the end.

Curious to know how a standard pencil is made? Here ya go!

Crayons & Markers

Some crayons have actually tested positive for asbestos! This seriously freaks me out since my sensory seeking daughter was constantly caught chewing them up in her kindergarten class last year. It was later reported that the crayons they were referring to were removed from the shelves. However, to be on the safe side, here are some more toxin-free alternatives.

Although children’s markers are generally considered pretty safe for their use, I would avoid the popular scented versions. Scents typically contain phthalates and a concoction of mystery chemicals used to produce the fragrance.

Hand Sanitizers

Honestly, this shouldn’t even be listed on the school supply list in my opinion. Soap and water work quite well, possibly even better. This method also avoids the harmful ingredient, triclosan. Not to mention the detrimental effects it has on our gut health, skin and immune systems.

If your school insists upon it, I would recommend shopping for a safer version of it, such as that offered by the Babyganics brand, instead. And buy it in bulk, if possible, or just make your own.

School Lunches

The average government-issued cafeteria meal consists of the cheapest processed foods, and are filled with preservatives. This is not what we want to “grow our children on,” and promote learning with. So I would highly recommend giving lunch-packing a try.

Check out Pinterest for some ideas–they have so many!

Lunch boxes & bags

This is another area where PVC is used abundantly. If you look a little closer, you can find some that are labelled PVC-free. Skip Hop is a good one, or give one of the stainless steel bento boxes a try.

Food containers

Avoid those single-use plastics like the plague. Remember, you use it once and the environment has to deal with it for “almost ever!” There are so many great reusable bags anymore, that it just doesn’t make sense–especially since it also saves you money!

Reusable bottles

Skip the disposable drink pouches and invest in a good-quality reusable stainless steel beverage bottle instead. I like this one by Kleen Kanteen. You can fill it with water, juice, whatever you like. To keep it cold, just add a few ice cubes.

Food items

This time of year, you can find a lot of organic individual lunch items on sale at your local grocery store. While that’s one way of doing it, I would lean more toward bulk packages or homemade, due to all the environmental waste. Remember that you aren’t going to be there to make sure the recycling happens.

Beyond that, I would just make it fun, using foods that they are generally excited about eating when they’re at home. And, of course, try to cover the food groups, limiting the sweet foods that they will likely be drawn to.


Carpool or “Walkpool”

Carpooling is great if you can find at least one or two other parents to share the duty with you. Get involved in the PTA or other school activities so that you can meet some potential carpoolers.

Have you ever heard of a “walkpool?” This is exactly what it sounds like. A group of neighbors take turns walking the kids to and from school. And you get a little exercise while you save some fossil fuels.

No Idling

It is a common everyday experience at most schools to find a long line of cars idling, waiting for school to get out. I don’t think most parents realize just how harmful this is to our environment.

Unless it’s a really hot or cold day, there really isn’t any good reason to leave your vehicle on while you wait. Try not to get there very early and that will limit the time you need to idle.

Educate & Inform Others

Your Kids

Use what you have learned about toxins and the environment to pass the message on to your children about how important the actions we take and the choices we make during the school year are in the scheme of things.

Your School is a fabulous place to start for helping your children’s schools adopt more sustainable practices that contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Check out the resources they offer.


  1. I love all of your creative suggestions for getting back to school clothes. I also love that you touch on antibacterial soap at school, it seriously drives me crazy! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I know, Sara, I cringe at all the disinfectant wipes, too! It’s also hard when they give crap candy for rewards all the time. So many things that are beyond our control, ya do what ya can. I sent a bag of organic chocolate chips to her special ed teacher for rewards last year.

  2. Every one has started with Back to school preparations and I love the ideas and tips that you have shared here. I was aware of some of them but few are totally new to me. All parents would love this. Thanks for sharing.

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