It’s back to school season, and in the rush to buy new uniforms, stationery, books, bags, and more, sustainability isn’t always the first thing on our list - we get it.
Often, mums and dads want to buy more eco-friendly items for their kids, but don’t know where to start. And it’s not just parents who care - young people in the UK and worldwide have been striking for the climate (you’ll have heard about the ‘Fridays For Future’ campaign started by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg). There are also initiatives like ‘Kids Against Plastic’ run buy school children, which has made over 50 cafes, schools, businesses, festivals and even councils across the UK ‘Plastic Clever’.
So in what ways can parents get everything kids need, on a budget, in minimal time, and not cost the Earth? We’ve put together some of our top tips to help you out...
Firstly, it’s good to do a bit of a stock-check and make a list only of what the kids really need before you go shopping. It’s tempting to buy multipacks of pens, notebooks, etc, but, actually, buying less stuff cuts your impact from the outset, as well as saving you money, of course.
Secondly, for whatever you do need, do your research first. Lots of brands sell good value, eco-friendly alternatives. Check out our recycled-paper notebooks, pencils and other items with plastic-free packaging. It’s great that lunch boxes are reusable, but remember to check out what they’re made from - some plastics cannot be recycled when you ultimately come to replace them.
It’s also about the contents of your lunch box - instead of cling film, invest in some reusable vegan wraps (A&O beeswax wraps back in stock soon!). And don’t forget to use reusable bottles for water or juice (330ml navy bottles now available). At home, too, try to substitute your kids’ toothbrushes and baby wipes for lower impact versions. Look out for biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes - and you can also get reusable wipes for you and baby - just wash and reuse.
You can also help your kids’ school itself become more eco-friendly. Encourage the cafeteria to buy local - discuss the topic with other parents at the next PTA meeting. Perhaps the school would also be happy to set up ‘grow-your-own clubs’, great for teaching kids the value of food and the enjoyment of growing your own fruit and veg.
When electronic toys wear out or you need to replace the batteries, remember to dispose of the electronics responsibly. There are two reasons for this: 1) harmful chemicals can leach into the atmosphere and water system if electronics go to landfill, and 2) it’s energy-intensive to obtain the metals used in electronics. So recycling them at your local electronics recycling point is the best way to go.
Kids grow fast so need regular outfit upgrades - but they don’t need brand new stuff every time. You can lower your footprint (and save some money) by shopping in vintage stores or doing clothes swaps with friends and family. Online platforms like Vinted are also really good for this. Shop around! And if you do buy something new, look out for more sustainable materials like bamboo or organic cotton.
When it comes to the school run, try to make your transport more efficient. Use school or public buses where possible to reduce emissions, arrange a carpool or get bikes (and helmets) for the whole family - it’s healthy (and cheap!) too. If you like to grab a coffee on the way home, invest in a little, reusable coffee cup for the kids - perfect for a babyccino or hot chocolate - they’ll feel super stylish and grown up.
We hope this article gives you a bit of inspiration. It’s a great opportunity to have fun and discover new things, as well as educate the younger generation. Like a sponge, kids will absorb new habits and behaviours from you - so we might as well make sure they are healthy for them and for the planet, too!
Lydia Paris is a London-based writer, content marketing consultant and co-host of sustainability podcast Switch. Get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Lydia Paris and Atlas & Ortus, 2019