As the kids head back to school, here are 12 tips for more environmentally friendly school supplies, computers, clothes, lunches and another round of face masks to protect students from COVID-19.

  1. If you need a new supply of washable face masks for kids attending in-person classes, there are several options for reusable cloth masks that are repurposed, organic or give back to the community. If you sew, you can repurpose old cotton clothing into masks using easy, free online patterns. If you don’t sew, Funkins sells child-size, reusable cloth masks along with reusable cloth napkins, lunch bags and other school items. EarthHero sells organic cotton, reusable kids face masks that are shipped plastic free in recycled packaging. Groceries Apparel sells organic cotton, child-size face masks and donates masks to essential workers with each purchase.
  2. Before you head out to the store or online to buy new supplies, take stock of what is still usable from last year. Donate items you can’t use to a school backpack program or locate a place to recycle them. In the Kansas City metro area, RecycleSpot can help you locate a nearby recycler for many items.
  3. Whether you’re donating or buying gently-used items, check out ScrapsKC, a non-profit craft center that reuses, repurposes and resells materials that range from school and office supplies to textiles, typewriters and hardware. The store is located at 3269 Roanoke Road, Kansas City, MO.
  4. Buy recycled paper, and put a recycling container in your children’s bedrooms to encourage them to start recycling now to make it a life-long practice.
  5. Choose cardboard or canvas binders that can be recycled, instead of standard plastic binders. Designate a storage space for school supplies at home to prevent overbuying every year.
  6. Select refillable or biodegradable pens and recycled pencils.
  7. Look for soy-based crayons. Prang Soy Crayons are made from 100-percent renewable resources and are free of paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum and can take years to decompose in a landfill. To recycle old crayons, contact the National Crayon Recycle Program. They accept every type of crayon and recycle them into new Crazy Crayons.
  8. Even dried-out markers, highlighters and dry-erase markers can be recycled. Individuals and schools can participate through ColorCycle at Crayola.
  9. Even if kids are attending virtual classes from home, they’ll still probably need clothes in larger sizes than last year. Make sure your students know that trendy and fashionable clothes can be found in thrift shops and second-hand stores. If you don’t want to venture out to a thrift store, used clothing can be found online at stores like Thred Up or Kidizen. As always, you’ll want to wash items before the first wearing. When clothes have been outgrown, donate the items that are still in good condition to local charities for continued reuse.
  10. If your children will be going to a school building, skip the disposable plastic sandwich bags and choose BPA-free reusable containers instead.
  11. Use a stainless steel or up-cycled, reusable lunch box. Pack a washable cloth napkin, thermos and reusable utensils.
  12. When buying fruits and vegetables for school lunches, support local farmers markets. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over pre-packaged foods.

Photo: Ben Timney / CC