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Minimalist Shopping Tips That Will Make This Back-To-School Season A Breeze

August 01, 2018
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Photo by @nikoletta21
August 01, 2018
As parents, we’re all driven to do our best, but sometimes we need to just embrace the messy moments that inevitably come up. This back-to-school season, mbg’s teaming up with Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid—the first-ever hybrid minivan—to celebrate what we like to call mostly mindful parenting. 

It’s that time again! Talk of binders and calculators is about to fill the air as kids gear up for the school year with new supplies. It’s one of the biggest retail moments of the year, and parents and college students in the United States are primed to spend an estimated $83 billion on back-to-school shopping this fall. Most of this will be spent on brand-new goods.

But how many times have you bought a new notebook only to realize you already have about 20 half-used ones lying around at home? In order to make this year’s experience a little lighter on the planet (and your wallet), here are our top tips for using up what you already have, plus a few eco-friendly goods to look into when you need to buy new.

Think before you buy dozens of new notebooks and folders.

The United States produces about 20,700,000 tons of paper a year, using up an estimated 55 to 110 million trees in the process. And yet according to the American Forest & Paper Association, only 53 percent of it gets recycled. Avoid playing into these numbers by reusing old notebooks before buying new ones this school year. Tear out (and correctly recycle!) the pages you’ve used so far, and you’re good to go.

Once you’ve totally finished up all of your old notebooks, check out Sustainable Earth sugar-cane notebooks for a more eco-friendly option. Their pages are made from wasted pulp from the sugar-cane industry that’s been reprinted using vegetable-based inks. Pair them with folders that are made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and pat yourself on the back for saving some trees.

Jazz up your pack.

Photo: Jordan Ferney for Oh Happy Day

Instead of buying a new backpack, play around with fabric paint, patches, or stickers to breathe new life into an old one. Check out Jordan from Oh Happy Day’s approach for some serious inspo. And if you do need to get a new pack, consider shopping at places that offer a lifetime guarantee, like Patagonia and JanSport. They’ll take your damaged pack, and a team of repair specialists will fix it right up for free. Patagonia also has a great section of gently used packs available at a discount, called Worn Wear.

Go for a PVC-free binder.

These days, many binders are made using PVC, a plastic that lingers in the environment for decades and has been associated with health concerns1. You can either reuse your binders from last year or check out alternatives like Naked Binders, which are made of more earth-friendly materials like wood and recycled plastic.

Make a dreamy DIY desk.

There’s so much opportunity to get crafty with your kid’s home desk supplies. To create a place for them to store paper, YouTube DIY-er SaraBeautyCorner has a crafty tip: Just cut an empty cereal box at an angle and cover it in bright wrapping paper to create a fun home for papers and notebooks. Skip ahead to 14:55 in this video to see how it’s done. Paint your old berry baskets and you have yourself some beautiful storage space for smaller items. You can also transform an empty candle jar into a pen holder and even use Legos for organizing cords. Get creative!

Top it all off with a dry-erase board for keeping track of to-do lists and reminders sans paper.

Make lunchtime more sustainable.

Photo: S'well

When you arm yourself with the right essentials, it’s actually super easy to avoid pesky single-use products in kids' lunches, like plastic baggies and water bottles.

Step 1: Drinks. S’ip, the adorable mini version of the S'well bottle, will keep beverages nice and cold all day—no plastic bottle or straws necessary. And for sandwiches and snacks, check out stasher bags. They’re made of silicone, come in a number of different sizes, and can be thrown in the dishwasher and reused over and over. Toss it all in a plastic-free lunch box and you’re all set. Bonus points if you also tell your kid why avoiding single-use plastics is a kind thing to do for Mama Earth.

Be mindful of how you toss last year's goods.

Instead of throwing old, unusable school supplies in the trash, find a place to recycle them. Staples offers cash back when you bring in old ink cartridges; TerraCycle will take your used pens, pencils, and markers; and Elmer's will take those old glue sticks off your hands.

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