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Go Back to School Green

In August, stores are full of school supplies; The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that $55.12 billion will be spent on back-to-school marketing this year. In fact, Back-to-School ranks second only to the holiday season in total sales. For parents of young children, the options often depend on the brand of bag and lunch box (Clone Wars for us last year).

This year, a different approach. Green school supplies are not only good for the environment but also for your children. Especially avoid items made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). A report from Tufts University states that vinyl chloride, the building block of PVC resin, has been classified as a human carcinogen. Many studies have documented links between working in vinyl chloride production facilities and an increased likelihood of developing diseases including liver angiosarcoma and other non-cancerous diseases. Additives such as stabilizers, plasticizers, and fillers mixed with PVC can leach out of a product during its useful life and pose public health risks, including the development of reproductive problems in children.

Another plastic, polyester, is also common in bags and lunch boxes. All of the polyester production steps required to convert oil into polyester fiber are energy intensive and result in significant emissions, including large amounts of carbon dioxide. Polyester production also uses large amounts of water for cooling, as well as lubricants, which can be a source of pollution.

PVC and polyester rear their ugly heads in backpacks and lunch boxes.

Instead, look for backpacks made from natural fibers such as hemp or cotton. If for some reason your child needs a bag made of synthetic material, choose polyester or nylon over PVC.

If possible, food boxes should also be made of natural fibers; they also offer an opportunity to reduce waste and save money during the school year. Choose lunch boxes that can pack lunches and snacks bento-box style, that is, in a way that doesn’t require disposable food packaging.

Water bottles must be BPA free. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which can disrupt your body’s hormones and may cause negative health effects especially when exposure occurs in early development. Many states have banned BPA in baby formula containers, baby bottles and sippy cups. If possible choose stainless steel water bottles like those produced by Kleen Kanteen.

In addition to avoiding toxic plastics, choose wood-friendly products. Find pens made from FSC certified woods and paper with a high recycling content.

And if you want to be really green, avoid buying new school supplies altogether. If last year’s items are still in usable condition, why not use them and save some money? Alternatively try thrift stores, yard sales and Freecycle for some second hand bags and lunch boxes.

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