Check your leftover school supplies before buying more!

It was the moment I had been putting off all summer — organizing for the first day of school.

Having to find rulers, notebooks, running shoes and gym clothes during the summer holidays makes it feel like summer is over. While kids seem to like all the preparation, and the shopping that comes with it, many parents I know dread it.

The back-to-school shopping lists for the two school-age children in our house came in the mail at the beginning of August, requesting dozens of items -from¬†compasses and calculators to Kleenexes, liquid paper and many, many notebooks, duo-tangs and binders. Oh, and by the way, don’t spend all your money at the mall, because you still have to pay for agendas and school books that are running at about $40 per kid at my house.

That made me think that this year we are going to focus on economizing and the environment for the first day of school at the Commission scolaire de Montreal next week.

A survey done over the summer in the U.S. found that consumers would spend on average $550 on back-to-school shopping this year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $1,100 burning a hole in my wallet right now.

So, here are some ideas for cutting costs and reducing the environmental impact of back-to-school.

The first thing we did was sort through all the used and unused school supplies that came home at the end of June. We ended up with a plastic bin full of duo-tangs, pencils, binders, rulers and pencil cases, as well as unopened boxes of tissues and reusable plastic bags.

A friend of mine does this with her sister, and in August they trade coloured duo-tangs and binders to meet the requirements of their four kids’ school-supply lists.

Then we tackled the backpacks. A kid I know has been using the same backpack since kindergarten, and she just graduated from Grade 6. We threw all of ours in the washing machine, checked for holes and declared three of them completely usable for this school year. We did the same thing with pencil cases and were able to cross them off the list. Next, we went through the house collecting pencil crayons, sorted through them and were able to make a collection of 24 for each kid.

Some things you can’t avoid buying, like the extremely specific lined and unlined notebooks that teachers request every year. With the money you’ve saved by reusing last year’s supplies, though, hopefully you can afford the (unfortunately) higher-priced environmentally friendlier versions of notebooks, lined paper, pens and binders.

I checked out a few local stores to see what was on offer last week and found notebooks made with recycled paper, pens that were made 80 per cent of recycled materials and plastic report covers made of recycled plastic.

There were staple-less staplers that hold sheets of paper together without any metal, Post-it notes made from recycled paper, as well as scissors, rulers and erasers made of recycled materials.

The good thing about buying products like these is that it helps to increase the market for recyclables we put in our green bins, like paper, plastic and metal. You can see that concept at work at places like the Cooperative du Grand Orme in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where they sell notebooks made from recycled paper by Quebec company Cascades. They also carry pencils made from recycled newspaper, pens made of corn, as well as different kinds and colours of paper.

The other place to look for environmentally friendlier options is the lunch box.

With garbage-free lunches being encouraged at many schools, the challenge is to get all that food into reusable containers. Many people invest in plastic containers with easy-to-remove lids, and reusable drink boxes or water bottles.

This year, we’re going to do away with plastic sandwich and snack bags.

Montreal-based Credo Bags makes small snack-size drawstring bags that are not only convenient and reusable, but kids like their style. Something else that is becoming more readily available is reusable sandwich bags that can be tossed in the washing machine when they get dirty. You can order several different kinds from online stores. I’ve been using one made by a company called Reusies, and they have Velcro to keep it closed and are big enough for sandwiches, bagels and wraps. (Go to http://www.reusies.comfor more information). Still with the lunch boxes, disposable napkins and plastic cutlery can easily be replaced with reusable ones. It won’t necessarily make your kids eat the food you pack for them, but at least it cuts down on what they throw in the garbage.

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