An Easy and Eco-friendly Guide for Back to School

August 24 2020 | Sarah Robertson-Barnes, Sustainable in the Suburbs

An Easy and Eco-friendly Guide for Back to School

Back to school this fall looks very different for teachers, students, and parents alike. Whether learning is in person, online, or a combination of both, back to school preparation presents new challenges for us all. For our family, focusing on adapting our eco-friendly values to this time has been a great way to put a positive spin on the new reality. For us, this looks like incorporating more reusables into our routine, stressing the importance of sharing with your community, and staying committed to green living wherever possible.

Easing back into the school year this fall may seem impossible with all the uncertainty, but giving kids a sense of agency and control goes a long way! If wearing non-medical masks is part of returning to the classroom, you can help normalize it by discussing all the big feelings, the reasons for doing it, and use it as an opportunity for your kids to demonstrate responsibility. Avoid waste by investing in a few inexpensive, reusable non-medical masks. Let your kids choose their patterns, picking a few great ones that they are excited to wear. Teach them the benefits of refilling products by topping up their own little bottle of hand sanitizer for their school bag each night.

Many refill stores are now stocking sanitizer, but if you don’t have this in your area, buy the largest container you can find to cut down on plastic waste.

New clothes are a usual staple on the back to school list, but this year has really changed the way many of us shop. We had to pay closer attention to what we really needed and think about how to access it safely. Quarantine saw a huge uptick in neighbours sharing with each other, a trend we should bring into our new normal! Kids go through things quickly, which means the secondhand market is brimming with perfectly good items just waiting to be used again. Shop secondhand first for everything from clothing, footwear, backpacks, and even school supplies! Thrift shopping not only saves you money, but it teaches kids about the life cycle of the things they use, how to take care of things to be used again by someone else, and patience when buying things. Check out your local thrift and consignment shops, as well as contactless options such as Buy Nothing or Facebook Marketplace.

The lunch bag is the perfect place to create an enjoyable, eco-friendly routine with your kids. Even packing a lunch for at home learning creates a sense of continuity and normalcy. Reusable containers are an easy way to eliminate single-use plastics. Choose stainless steel options where possible, as these are dishwasher safe for sanitizing. Spend time planning out the week’s lunches with your kids, using the time to discuss feelings big and small while you pre-chop veggies and prep package-free snacks. Having control over this part of their day goes a long way for your kids and the planet too.

Staying connected to your kids is the most important thing you can do as we all move into this next phase together. Remember that your mental well being as a family is just as important and your physical health. Be sure to spend time in nature together each week to replenish yourselves and have a little fun!


Sarah lives in the suburbs of Toronto, ON with her two elementary-aged children, husband, and rescue dog. For tips and inspiration on living zero waste with kids, check out her blog Sustainable in the Suburbs or follow her on Instagram @sarah.robertson.barnes

“A sustainable lifestyle with kids is not only possible but critically important for our future and theirs. I hope that by sharing what works for our family, you are inspired to make changes in your daily life too!” – Sarah Robertson-Barnes

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