Summer really just started. But with the stresses of COVID-19 and being on a distance learning program for four months, parents are not just soaking in bits of vacation and sunshine, but I am sure the last thing they are thinking of is *gasp* back to school shopping. (Ha! Or maybe they are considering the last few months.) But I ask you, “why?”. Why do we even need to go through this song and dance each year?
Why not make it so that the items your kids own from last year work for this year (and every year for that matter, straight until high school or further)?
There are loads of kids starting school for the first time this fall and there’s no reason back to school shopping can’t be easy (or skipped), sustainably done, and save you money. And hey, the re-entry of kids in school this fall will have its fair share of stresses. Don’t let this be one of those stress factors. And, after all, shopping for new items each year is pricey and wasteful!
Here is what I bought for my kid when they started school (and what they are still using):
- Uashmama washable paper bag for a lunch bag
- Colibri wet and dry sack for first nutritional break/snack
- Used (thrift find) thermos for second nutritional break/lunch
- Used (thrift find) reusable containers for second nutritional break/lunch
- Used (thrift find) cutlery
- Used (Kijiji find) Fjallraven Kanken backpack (regular size) and one of them is newly purchased from their online shop as finding this brand used is tricky with so many fakes out there. I bought this brand for its back support.
- Used (handmedown) cloth napkins and cutlery holder
- Onyx Containers stainless steel and distilled water ice packs (I love that these are plastic-free)
- Kleen Kanteen water bottles
Here are my tips for a sustainable lunch and school year basics:
- Buy products that will last for many years. Think long-term into the university days. The Fjallraven Kanken doesn’t boast any cutesy brands or figures. Your kids can easily sport this comfortably in grade school, cool enough into middle school, use it for sleepovers and work in high school and travel Europe with it (my partner and I took it to Miami)… even use it as a work bag!
- Buy used products and thrift items. Granted, plastic-free is the best, but when I went shopping there was an amazing little set at the thrift store. It was matching and little. Why put demand on the fossil fuel industry when perfectly good items already exist? Prevent sending them to the landfill, too.
- Start looking early. To get these awesome steals, I started looking 6 months before September. I often pop into thrift stores, so I keep a handy list of “looking for” items on my phone so I can always reference when I am there. That way you don’t panic and buy new at a big box store. Right now, with the virus still in our communities, you might feel better contacting friends with older kids who might be parting with such items or Kijiji* for used items. Don’t feel forced to go shopping at thrift stores. You know what I do often? I post on Facebook what I am searching for. Your friends will surprise you!
- Everything should be reusable. My kiddo loves a good face wipe after each dirty, sticky, wet bite from her meal. She likes a clean face. Schools only provide those harsh, brown paper towels. Why not send a face cloth? I know it’s what I used as a kid. And you should see how proudly she pulls out a hanky that used to belong to her grandma!
- Ditch plastic lunch bags. They are not made to last. Once they’re cracked or ripped, the exposed foam (usually polyurethane) starts to absorb nasty bacteria. They can’t be washed properly, nor repaired. Think of the nasty, germ-infesting, foamy, plastic grossness that is a cheaply-made lunch bag. And picture this… where does it go when you’re done with it? The landfill! Get something that can be tossed away in the compost when its day is done. If this paper option, the Uashmama, I am suggesting doesn’t work for ya, and you want a more traditional lunch bag, I suggest a wool insulated, cotton one made by Life Without Plastic, that is washable*. My plan is to buy this lunch bag once my kids are a wee older and more capable of keeping their stuff in good condition. So far, my paper one is holding on pretty damn well! I am impressed to say the least.
- Say no to plastic. The whole family owns stainless steel water bottles. The kids have been using the same Kleen Kanteen ones since daycare. May I suggest the no-gross twist caps as the sports caps, inevitably, get filthy no matter how much I soak them and scrub them with a straw brush. This year I added two small ice packs from Onyx Containers that are plastic-free which is a score, because these are usually gel-filled, hard, easily-breakable, heavy things. I love that this can go right against their food as its made of stainless steel. It’s sleek, lightweight and keeps things cold for 4-6 hours. We even use it on our body when we get hurt.
When I shop I always think, “what happens to this when I am done with it?” The thing is, our kids who are in school now will one day inherit this Earth. We need to make sure that how we set them up for back to school is easy on the planet so their future can be easy on them. And not to mention, this long-term way of thinking, thrift-buying, eco-conscience lunch system is so incredibly easy on your budget. If only lunch-making were this easy!
*I only link to products or shops I use or love. I do not receive any compensation. These links are meant to make it useful on the reader to buy sustainable products.