Skip to Content

Save money with green ideas for back to school

Geste - Rentrée responsable

Back to school doesn't have to be about driving from box store to box store. It's a great opportunity to make responsible choices that benefit your community, protect your pocketbook and reaffirm the values that you work so hard to teach your children.

Changing old habits may seem daunting, but it won't take long for you to experience the advantages. Besides, your children may surprise you with their enthusiasm for protecting the environment.

Reuse old school supplies

Bags, binders, pencil cases...

The back-to-school shopping list can seem endless. Take the pressure off. Reuse! The environment and your wallet will thank you for taking the time to figure out which of your supplies can be used for another year.

Have your children redecorate the covers of their old binders and notebooks with their own artwork. Or, if you know how to sew, help them make their own pencil cases from old clothes.

And remember that your excess stuff may be of use to a family in need. Donate your surplus supplies to charity, e.g., St. Vincent de Paul, Magasins Partage or the Salvation Army.

Give your textbooks a second life

Save money, not to mention trees: buy used books! Some schools have used-book programs.

There are also online shops specializing in second-hand textbooks for kids from primary-school to college age, such as the French-language Cliclivres, where parents can put old books up for sale and communicate directly with potential buyers. No waste, no middlemen, not bad.

Buy green

Choose paper and notebooks made with recycled, non-chlorinated materials, and teach your children to use both sides of the page. At home, set an example by making your own notepads from used printer sheets. 

Look for one-of-a-kind, eco-friendly products designed by local artisans, e.g., lunch bags or pencil cases made from recycled materials.

Most importantly, before you buy, ask yourself, do I really need this? This one easy step will save you money, guaranteed!
 

Clothing and school uniforms

Prioritize thrift shops or shops selling clothing made from recovered fabric. Find a cobbler to give a facelift to your family's bags, boots and shoes. And why not organize a clothing swap with friends or relatives? It's a low-cost way to renew your wardrobe. Check out the S.W.A.P. Team website for upcoming events and advice. For more ideas and information, please see our guide to responsible clothing (in French only).

Montreal cooperative, fibrEthik, embarked on a pilot project last year to produce North America's first certified fair trade organic cotton school uniforms. Encourage your children's school to consider more ethical options.

Resist trendy electronic devices

According to Natural Resources Canada, electronic devices such as computers and printers are responsible for over 272,000 tonnes of waste in Canada each year, equal to the weight of 36,000 elephants! Don't succumb to the temptation of a trendy new device if your old one still works.

If you must upgrade, find an organization that will recycle or reuse your old device. Do not throw out old electronics. Computers in particular contain highly toxic products that are harmful to the health and the environment. Find a new home for old electronics by giving them away on Freecycle or selling them on Les PAC, Kijiji or Craigslist

Did you know that it costs between $75 and $120 a year to keep a computer running 24 hours a day? Or that monitors are big energy suckers? To save on your electricity bill, teach your young scholars to shut down the computer rather than keeping it on standby. Other energy-saving tips.

 Rethink transportation

The end of summer means back-to-school traffic. Why not find a new way to get the kids to school this year? Take advantage of In town, without my car! day to try alternative modes of transportation: subway, bus, carpooling, walking or cycling or, our favourite, the transportation cocktail

If you have young children, you can create a walking school bus (called Trottibus in Quebec) to take kids to school or to various activities: it will get them moving and give them a sense of community! A walking bus is a group of children walking together with the help of one or two adults (neighbours, parents, teachers). The idea is to promote physical activity, cut down on pollution, and save time and money. Establish a route, schedule and pick-up points.

Vélo Québec's On the move to school! also offers support to schools that promote active transportation.
 

Pack a "locavore" lunch

Back to school, for students as well as staff, means figuring out what to bring for lunch. For a steady, tasty supply of fresh, healthy veggies, support a family farmer

One way to avoid prepared foods, which are often high in sugar, fat and salt, is to form a collective kitchen with family and friends. It cuts on costs, fosters community, and produces healthful meals that are a pleasure to serve.

Fall is an ideal time to stock up on local vegetables to use in preserves, pickles and jams for the winter months. Visit an organic apple producer and get the whole family involved in making apple sauce or other healthy desserts. If possible, carpool with friends and family to get to the orchard.

For an unforgettable outing, Montrealers can take the Apple Orchard Tour train for a picking excursion to the Lower Laurentians (on Saturday afternoons beginning in September, see the AMT website for details).

Many schools and child care services are increasingly promoting zero waste lunches. In Quebec, each person produces on average more than 400 kg of waste annually, of which 28% is paper, cardboard and plastic. Much of this could be avoided with a reduction in the amount of packaging, says Recyq Quebec. When preparing lunches, avoid food that is over packaged or divided into individual portions. Buying in bulk will also help you save money. Use reusable dishes and containers.

Take it even further: expose your children to local food and teach them that their food choices have an impact on the world around them. For more information on raising locavores, see the customizable Soup's on! kit. Share it with your children's teachers.

Hope you enjoyed our suggestions. Do you have some of your own to share? Leave them in our Comments.